MAXIMS AND OPINIONS OF FIELD-MARSHAL HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON, SELECTED FROM HIS WRITINGS AND SPEECHES DURING A PUBLIC LIFE OF MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY.
With a Biographical Memoir,
GEORGE HENRY FRANCIS, ESQ.
"Cujus gloriae neque profuit quisquam laudando, nec vituperando quisquam nocuit."
HENRY COLBURN, PUBLISHER.
GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET
* * * * *
So many works have already appeared of which the Duke of Wellington has been the subject, that an explanation is due to the public on the occasion of adding one more to the number.
That explanation consists in the fact, that those works have been almost exclusively occupied with the military exploits of the Duke, which rendered him so illustrious during the first twenty years of his public life; while his political career, which may be said to have constituted a second life, distinct and different from the other, has been comparatively neglected.
To meet the want thus left unsatisfied, the Editor of the following pages has endeavoured to supply materials, by which a just estimate may be formed of the Duke of Wellington's claims as a minister and as a statesman.
The volume will be found to contain the Duke's deliberate opinions as a member of the House of Peers, and, during many years, as a minister, upon the great questions which have agitated the public mind since the commencement of the present century.
If there are those who hold the Duke of Wellington in light estimation as a politician, they will not continue to entertain that opinion, the Editor believes, after having dispassionately read the extracts of which this work is composed.
Interspersed with the Duke's more elaborate OPINIONS, will be found his MAXIMS on public policy, which, though few and unpretending, may be said to have sunk into the national mind.
The Editor has added a few remarkable sentences and passages from the dispatches of the Duke; with a cursory memoir of his life, which becomes more elaborate from the commencement of his political career; and has also attempted to portray some of his characteristics, as a soldier and as a civilian.
LONDON, February, 1845.
HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON.
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, is the fourth son of Garret, second Earl of Mornington, by Anne, the eldest daughter of Arthur Hill, Viscount Dungannon. He was borne at Dangan Castle, in the county of Meath, Ireland, on the 1st of May, 1769.
As in the case of many of the chief nobility and landholders in Ireland, the ancestors of the Duke were scions of an English house—the Colleys (afterwards Cowley), two of whom, named Walter and Robert Colley, proceeded to Ireland in the reign of Henry VIII., and located themselves in the County of Kilkenny. The two brothers were lawyers by profession, and in the year 1531, were invested with the office of Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, which they were to hold jointly during their lives. Six years afterwards, we find the elder brother Master of the Rolls in Ireland, and the other Solicitor-General. In 1549, Walter was made Surveyor-General of Ireland. It was from this Walter that the immediate ancestors of the Duke of Wellington were, by the mother's side, descended.
His eldest son, Henry, acquired some distinction as a soldier in the reign of Elizabeth. He was also a member of the Irish Parliament for the borough of Thomastown. He was, moreover, a Privy Councillor, and was knighted.
Sir Henry Sydney, who was, perhaps, the wisest and most able of all the Lords Deputy whom Elizabeth sent over to Ireland, appears to have entertained a very high opinion of Sir Henry Colley's abilities; for, in recommending him to his successor in the Government, he describes him as "valiant, fortunate, and a good servant;" and speaks of him as his "sound and fast friend." But he more especially praises the "order," in which he kept his county.
Thus early did a member of this family earn praise for good service to the State; and if we compare the measure of that praise with what we know of the temper of the times, we might almost suppose that some portion of the spirit of the "sound and fast friend," the "valiant, fortunate, and good servant," had been inherited by his illustrious descendant.
The immediate descendants of Sir Henry Colley were more or less distinguished. His great-great grand-daughter, Elizabeth, married into the family of the Westleys (afterwards Wellesleys) of Dangan, in the county of Meath. This family also was of English extraction, having originally come from Sussex. Richard Colley, the nephew of the Elizabeth abovementioned, was adopted by Garret Wellesley, whose name and estates he took in the year 1728, by patent from the Herald's office. He was auditor and registrar of the Royal Hospital of Kilmainham, and a Chamberlain of the Court of Exchequer. He sat in parliament several years for Carysford, and was, in 1747 raised to the peerage by George II., being created Baron Mornington. His son, Garret, was, in 1760, created Viscount Wellesley and Earl of Mornington. He married, on the 6th February, 1759, Anne, eldest daughter of the Right Honourable Arthur Hill, Viscount Dungannon, by whom he had issue, Richard the late Marquis Wellesley, Arthur Gerald, who died in infancy, William Wellesley Pole, Baron Maryborough, Arthur Duke of Wellington, Gerald Valerian, D.D., Sir Henry, G.C.B., Francis Seymour, Anne, and Mary Elizabeth.
The Earl of Mornington, who was chiefly remarkable for his strong passion for music, in which science he acquired no slight celebrity as a composer, died in 1781, leaving his property very much encumbered. Its management was entrusted to Lady Mornington, who appears, by universal assent, to have been one of those remarkable women to whose care the world is indebted, so much more than it conceives or will admit, for its great men. Although it may have been upon severer models, and by the lessons of more pretending teachers, that the Marquis Wellesley was formed into the vigorous ruler, and the wise, far-seeing statesman; or if his scarcely more illustrious brother must, from other sources, have imbibed that stern unswerving spirit which, in his after career, insured truth to his views and certainty to his enterprises, yet one can scarcely allow a doubt that it is to the direction given by their admirable mother to the minds of these two great men, while still in the pliant season of youth, that we owe that high appreciation of truth and honour, and that sense of the identity of virtue and duty, which, while their wisdom and prowess were spreading our military fame, and extending the sphere of our civilising influence, enabled them also, by the exaltation of our national character, to secure for their country the respect of all the world.
One of the first fruits of early lessons or of later reflection upon the mind of the young Earl of Mornington was, that he took upon himself the payment of his father's debts, an act entirely voluntary on his part.
Of Lord Mornington, afterwards the celebrated Marquis Wellesley, it is unnecessary to say more in this place than that he was in the year 1797 appointed to the Governor-Generalship of India, in which high office he was enabled to develop, without the suspicion of undue preference, the peculiar talents of his younger brother—talents which his discriminating mind would probably have discovered even without the assistance of such close proximity.
To return to the immediate subject of these Memoirs:—His education commenced at Eton, from whence he went to the military academy at Angers, in the department of the Maine and Loire, there being at that period no institution of the kind in this country.
On his return from the Continent, young Wellesley received (on the 7th of March, 1787), an ensigncy in the 41st regiment, he being then in his eighteenth year. He became lieutenant on the 25th of December in the same year; captain, on the 30th of June, 1791; major, on the 30th of April, 1798; and lieut.-colonel on the 30th of September following. These promotions were chiefly by purchase, and the lieut.-colonelcy (of the 33rd) was bought for him by his brother. He was returned to the Irish parliament at the general election of 1790, for Trim, a borough belonging to his brother.
Brilliant as was the reputation which, within a very few years, he acquired as a soldier and a politician in the East, it will not excite surprise to hear that his parliamentary displays did not in his early life excite much attention. A friend of the writer of this memoir, a gentleman who was in the habit of being present, almost daily, in the Irish House of Commons, and who took critical notice of the remarkable men of his time, states that the Duke never made any striking impression as a speaker; indeed; there was nothing whatever to distinguish him from the herd of young parliamentary nominees, except a certain simple, straightforward, firm, though unassuming statement of his opinions; and even this took place but seldom. The recollection of this gentleman confirms the account of Sir Jonah Barrington, that—"His address was unpolished; he spoke occasionally, and never with success; and evinced no promise of that unparalleled celebrity which he reached afterwards."
The following anecdote is not inconsistent with that reputation for inflexible honour which, in successive eras of his life, procured for the Duke of Wellington the confidence of the Indian government, of the British army, and ultimately of the whole English nation. It is taken from the excellent detailed account of the Duke's military career, recently published by Mr. Maxwell:—
"The appointment of Captain Wellesley to the staff of the Earl of Westmorland, had placed him in the household of the viceroy, and as aid-de-camp required his constant attendance at the castle. The Irish court at that period was celebrated alike for its hospitality, its magnificence, and its dissipation. The princely display of the lords lieutenant of those days entailed a heavy expenditure upon the numerous attaches of the court, and too frequently plunged young men of high family and limited fortunes into very distressing embarrassments. Captain Wellesley's patrimony was small, his staff appointment more fashionable than lucrative, and it is not surprising that soon after he had come of age he found himself involved in pecuniary difficulties. At the time he lodged in the house of an opulent bootmaker, who resided on Lower Ormand Quay. The worthy tradesman discovered, accidently, that his young inmate was suffering annoyance from his inability to discharge a pressing demand. He waited on Lieutenant Wellesley, told him that he was apprised of his embarrassments, mentioned that he had money unemployed, and offered a loan, which was accepted. The obligation was soon afterwards duly repaid; and the young aid-de-camp was enabled in a few years to present his humble friend to an honourable and lucrative situation. Nor did death cancel the obligation; the Duke's patronage, after his parent's death, was extended to the son of his early friend, for whom he obtained a valuable appointment."
To enter into any detailed account of the military career of the Duke of Wellington, would be wholly beyond the scope of a work devoted more especially to his Grace's character and services as a civilian; but were it not so, it would be unnecessary, after the many able biographies which have appeared since the publication of the dispatches by Lieut.-Colonel Gurwood. The following is, therefore only a short summary of the Duke's proceedings from 1794, when he first entered on active service, to 1815, when his functions as a military commander in the field finally ceased.
It was in June, 1794, that Lieut.-Colonel Wellesley embarked at Cork, in command of the 33rd regiment, to join the Duke of York's army in the Netherlands. In the subsequent retreat from Holland he commanded, as senior officer, three battalions, and conducted himself in a manner that already drew on him the attention of military men.
In October, 1795, he again embarked, in the command of the 33rd, for the West Indies, on board the fleet commanded by Admiral Christian. This fleet was, however, repeatedly driven back by the strong equinoctial gales, and in the January following it returned to port. Before it could again sail, the 33rd regiment was ordered to India, and Colonel Wellesley arrived at Bengal in February, 1797. When we consider the fate of a large portion of his fellow soldiers who went to the West Indies, and at the same time look forward to the peculiar facilities which the service in India afforded for developing the great qualities of mind which lay hid under the rigid exterior of the young soldier, it may truly be said, that the moment at which the destination of the 33rd regiment was countermanded, was the point at which the fate of the Duke of Wellington turned. Nay more, if it be admitted that you rarely find in one man a combination of those peculiar qualities, which enabled the Duke to withstand, and ultimately to destroy, the military and political system established by the contrary tendencies which ruled the mind of Napoleon; if, too, it be conceded that the British government, even while the Duke was winning battles in Spain, were accustomed to resort to his counsel with regard to their more extended operations against the common enemy; if, in fact, it is owing to the sagacity, steadfastness, and perseverance of the Duke of Wellington, that we owe the peace of Europe; then must it be admitted, that upon the accident of tempests which obstructed Admiral Christian's fleet, and upon the accident of military disposition, which altered the destination of the regiment, depended not merely the fortunes of the Duke of Wellington, but also the fate of nations, and the peace of the world.
By this time, the Earl of Mornington had been appointed Governor-general of India, and the inveterate hatred of Tippoo Sultaun against the English name was arming the natives to resistance. The first achievement of Colonel Wellesley, that drew attention to his name, was the storming of Seringapatam, in which he commanded the reserve in the trenches. On the capture of Seringapatam Colonel Wellesley was appointed governor, and at the same time named as one of the commission appointed to dispose of the territory conquered. But an office more honourable to his character, was his selection to superintend the removal of the family of Tippoo Sultaun. Lord Mornington in his instructions says:—"The details of this painful but indispensable measure cannot be entrusted to any person more likely to combine every office of humanity with the prudential precautions required by the occasion than Colonel Wellesley; and I therefore commit to his discretion, activity, and humanity, the whole arrangement."
In July, 1799, Colonel Wellesley was appointed to the sole command of Seringapatam and Mysore; and here his capacity for civil government, as well as in military affairs, was fully developed. He had by this time begun to feel his own strength, and to make it felt by others. The reader of his dispatches will perceive that, from the moment when he was placed in a position of independent command, his mind appears to have taken a higher stand: he recognised higher responsibilities: and one may almost detect, in the confirmed self-reliance of his judgment even in this comparatively limited sphere, a prescience of future greatness.
The year 1803 was signalised by Major-General Wellesley's conquests in the Mahratta territory, and the battle of Assaye. Passing over the details of these campaigns, in which the rising commander displayed military genius of the highest order, we come to the more pleasing task of enumerating the honours he received. A monument was erected in Calcutta to commemorate the last-named battle: the inhabitants of that city presented him with a sword of the value of L1000: the officers of his division presented him with a golden vase, afterwards changed for a service of plate, on which the word "Assaye" was engraved: the British parliament voted him public thanks, he was made a Knight Companion of the Bath: and addresses of the warmest praise were voted to him by the inhabitants of Seringapatam, and other places, which had benefitted by his skill and prowess in the field, and his wisdom on the seat of government.
In February, 1805, having resolved on returning to England, he resigned the political and military powers that had been entrusted to him in the Deccan. On the 5th of March, a grand entertainment was given him at the Pantheon at Madras, by the officers of the Presidency, civil and military. On the 10th of September following, he arrived in the Downs; and, in the following month, he was appointed to the Staff, for the Kent District.
In the November following, Sir Arthur Wellesley, as he had now become, commanded the brigade in the expedition to Hanover under Lord Cathcart, which was withdrawn immediately after the battle of Austerlitz. In January, 1800, on the death of the Marquis Cornwallis, he was appointed colonel of the 33rd regiment; and on the 12th of April, in the same year, he was returned to the House of Commons as member for Newport, Isle of Wight.
In this year, Sir Arthur Wellesley married the Honourable Catherine Pakenham, third daughter of the second Earl of Longford.
On the 8th of April, 1807, he was made a privy councillor; and on the 19th of the same month, appointed chief secretary for Ireland, under the lord lieutenancy of the Duke of Richmond. On the 22nd, he was presented by the corporation of the city of Dublin with the freedom of that city. The address in which it was conveyed was most complimentary, and shows the high estimation in which he was already held on account of his brilliant military and civil services in India. In June of the same year, he accompanied Lord Cathcart in the expedition against Copenhagen; and in the only important action which took place at the affair at Kioge—he commanded, and obtained distinction. The result of the action was a capitulation, which Sir Arthur Wellesley was appointed to arrange. On his return home, he received the thanks of parliament for his services. Alluding to Sir Arthur Wellesley, the speaker said:—"But I should indeed be wanting in the full expression of those sentiments which animate this house and the whole country, if I forebore to notice, that we are on this day crowning with our thanks one gallant officer, long since known to the gratitude of this house, who has long trodden the paths of glory,—whose genius and valour have already extended our fame and empire,—whose sword has been the terror of our distant enemies, and will not now be drawn in vain to defend the seat of empire itself, and the throne of his sovereign."
A new and wider field of operations was now preparing for the rising hero. Napoleon, the unquestioned despot of the rest of continental Europe, had also grasped at the Peninsula. Both Spain and Portugal were in his possession, as far as military occupation and nominal sovereignty could ensure them to him. The hostile efforts of England were suspended as far as regarded Europe; but an expedition had been fitted out at Cork against part of Spanish America, and Sir Arthur Wellesley was appointed to the command. Again a marvellous interposition of accidents prevented this his second projected service in America. Before the troops could set sail, the insurrection at Madrid on the 2nd of May, 1808, against the French under Murat, drew the attention of England to the Peninsula, where some hope of successful resistance to Napoleon began to dawn. Once more the destination of the future conqueror was averted from the West, and he was ordered in command to the South.
Sir Arthur Wellesley landed at the mouth of the river Mondego in Portugal on the 3rd of August. Here he received intimation that re-inforcements under Sir John Moore were about to be sent. Moore was his superior officer, and there was also Sir Hew Dalrymple and Sir Harry Burrard on their way, the former of whom would take the chief, and the latter, the second command of the army. There was but little time for Sir Arthur to strike the decisive blow, and although he was not the man to force a battle for the sake of fame, he could not but feel anxious for distinction in this new sphere before all opportunity should be cut off, by the arrival of his superiors in command. Fortune in this was on his side; and he had not been many days in Portugal before he was enabled to defeat the French at the pass of Rolica, and, on the 21st of August, to gain the battle of Vimeiro.
While this battle was at its height, Sir Harry Burrard arrived, but would not interfere with Sir Arthur's dispositions. The French were soon after beaten on the left, and Sir Arthur then urged on Sir Harry the advance of our right wing upon Torres Vedras, while our left would pursue the enemy: his object being to cut off Junot's retreat on Lisbon. No man now doubts that this was counsel wise as well as bold; but Sir Harry Burrard declined to take it, and the golden opportunity was lost. Sir Arthur, who carried military obedience almost to the extent of a chivalrous sentiment, submitted to the orders, though he did not acquiesce in the judgment of his superior officer; but he could not help saying to one of his officers who stood by, "well, then, we have nothing to do but to go and shoot red-legged partridges!" the common game of that part of Portugal.
Sir Arthur Wellesley's subsequent conduct to Sir Harry Burrard was highly honourable. He declared voluntarily before the Court of Inquiry that, though he still differed in opinion with Sir Harry as to the not advancing after the battle of Vimeiro, his opinion was, that Sir H. Burrard "had decided upon fair military grounds, in the manner which appeared to him to be the most conducive to the interests of the country;" and his belief, "that Sir Harry had no motive for his decision which could be supposed personal to him, or which as an officer he could not avow."
The untoward convention of Cintra, which followed the victory of Vimeiro, was received in England with one universal cry of indignation. Sir Arthur Wellesley was no farther implicated in it than that he signed it as one of the generals, although disapproving of it from the first. Pending the inquiry, instituted in England on the convention, he returned thither, and his evidence was satisfactory alike to the court and to the public.
On the 27th January, 1809, Sir Arthur received the thanks of parliament for the battle of Vimeiro. The speaker, in delivering the thanks of the House of Commons, said:—
"Amidst the contending opinions which have prevailed upon other questions, the public voice has been loud and general in admiration of your splendid achievements. It is your praise to have inspired your troops with unshaken confidence and unbounded ardour—to have commanded, not the obedience alone, but the hearts and affections of your companions in arms; and having planned your operations with the skill and promptitude which have so eminently characterised all your former exertions, you have again led the armies of your country to battle, with the same deliberate valour, and triumphant success which have long since rendered your name illustrious in the remotest parts of this empire. Military glory has ever been dear to this nation; and great military exploits, in the field or upon the ocean, have their sure reward in royal favour, and the gratitude of parliament."
Sir Arthur, in his reply, observed:—
"No man can value more highly than I do the honourable distinction which has been conferred upon me—a distinction which it is in the power of the representatives of a free people alone to bestow, and which it is the peculiar advantage of the officers and soldiers in the service of his majesty to have held out to them as the object of their ambition, and to receive as the reward of their services."
The opening allusion of the speaker to "contending opinions on other matters," was intended to mark the sense of the house that Sir Arthur Wellesley, at least, was free from blame as regarded recent transactions in the Peninsula. That the government thought so also, and had at last learned to appreciate the value of an officer whom they had so recently trammelled, was evidenced by the appointment of Sir Arthur, on the 2nd of April, to the command of the army in Portugal.
Towards the close of the previous year, complaint had been made, in the House of Commons, of Sir Arthur holding the office of secretary for Ireland while in the Peninsula. On the 14th of April, he resigned that office, and on the 22nd, he arrived at Lisbon and assumed the command of an army, disproportioned, indeed, to the service expected of it, and still more to that which they afterwards achieved, but strong in its confidence in a general who had never made a false step, or suffered a defeat.
On the 12th of May, he carried Oporto by a coup de main. So complete was the surprise, that Sir Arthur and his staff sat down to the dinner which had been prepared for the French commander.
On the 28th July following, the battle of Talavera was fought, after which (on the 26th August), Sir Arthur was raised to the peerage by the titles of Baron Douro of Wellesley and Viscount Wellington of Talavera. In the February following, he received the thanks of parliament for Talavera, and a pension of L2000 per annum was voted to him and his two next heirs male.
So inferior was the numerical force of his army to that of the enemy that Lord Wellington found his operations must for some time be confined to the defence of Portugal; and he, therefore, gave orders for the fortification of the lines of Torres Vedras, by which the capital of the country was covered. They extended from the sea to the Tagus, at a point where the width of that river is such as to afford an adequate protection.
It was characteristic of the mind of the man of whom we are writing, that these works were planned and executed with a secrecy that baffled the penetration of the enemy, and equally the suicidal curiosity of the English newspapers.
Massena was now the general of the French army. Wellington, before retiring within the lines, fought the action of Busaco (ten months after the battle of Talavera), in which the French lost 5000 men, killed or wounded, and as many more disabled. After this victory, the English withdrew within the lines, to cover Lisbon. Massena took up a position at Santaren, from whence he gradually retreated towards the frontiers, several affairs occurring between his troops and the English, by whom he was closely followed. At length, he crossed the frontier, and Wellington's object was, thus far, attained. On the 26th of the same month, he received the thanks of both houses of parliament for the liberation of Portugal.
In the meanwhile, the army of Massena had been re-organized and reinforced, and on the 3rd of May he again attacked the allied British and Portuguese forces, for the purpose of relieving the fortress of Almeida, which was under blockade. The action was fought at Fuentes D'Onoro, and resulted in the defeat of the French. Massena was then superseded, and Marmont appointed in his place.
The next object of the British commander was to take Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo. The latter was stormed on the 19th January, and the former on the 9th of April. For both, the thanks of parliament were voted; and Lord Wellington, after having been created Conde de Vimeiro in Portugal, and Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain, was raised to an earldom (of Wellington) at home, with another vote of 2000 l. per annum to maintain the title.
On the 22nd of July, Marmont's army, which had been strongly reinforced, attacked the allies near Salamanca. The two armies had been watching each other for a considerable time, waiting for the favourable moment to attack. At length Marmont began, and having superior numbers, extended his left for the purpose of turning the British right. Wellington, when informed of this by one of his staff, was seated on the ground eating some cold beef; suddenly starting up, he exclaimed, "Marmont's good genius has forsaken him." He immediately attacked the French where they had weakened their line, and overthrew them from left to right. The loss of the enemy was severe, and Marmont himself lost an arm in the battle.
On the 12th of August following, Lord Wellington entered Madrid, and was appointed generalissimo of the Spanish armies—a troublesome honour which there was some difficulty in inducing him to accept. He was created a marquis at home, thanks were voted to him for the battle of Salamanca, and he received a grant of 100,000 l. to purchase land. He was also in December of the same year made Duque da Vittoria in Portugal.
In the meantime, the enormous force which had been brought together by the French, the refusal of the Spanish generals to co-operate, the failure of an attempt to capture the fortress of Burgos, and other causes, compelled the allies to retreat to Ciudad Rodrigo, with the determination of returning to Spain at a more fitting time. This retreat was conducted in the most admirable manner, and closed the campaign of 1812.
The foregoing is necessarily a most meagre outline of events, on which volumes have been written. Those who may be anxious to read the Duke of Wellington's own account of the military operations, will find in the public despatches his annual summaries: for 1809, in despatch No. 343; for 1810, No. 504; and for 1811, No. 615. For 1812 there is no such summary.
It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the difficulties with which the Duke of Wellington had to contend during these the three first years of his service in Spain, were confined to the making of military dispositions and the winning of battles. Other causes there were, operating as a drawback at every forward step, and obstacles sufficient to have wearied a less stout heart or a less determined spirit. To oppose to a skillful and veteran enemy he had but an inadequate force, most scantily supplied with provisions, and even with money. The French generals, restrained by no principle of honour or even of policy, were accustomed to plunder mercilessly for the subsistence of their troops: the English commander would take nothing from the people but what was paid for on the spot in money or in bills on the English government. Yet, such was the apathy (or worse) of the Portuguese authorities, that even on these terms provisions were not forthcoming; and important operations were constantly delayed or frustrated by the want of the necessary subsistence for the troops.
The reader of the Duke's despatches will glean much of his character from the letters written from time to time to these persons; and, scattered through the extracts which form a part of this volume, will be found characters of both Spaniards and Portuguese, (that is to say in the civil service) that are not very flattering to the national vanity. Well may he say, in a letter to Mr. Villiers on the 25th of May 1811, "No man can appreciate better than yourself the difficulties with which I have had to contend; but I believe you are not aware of all of them. I persevered in the system which I thought best, notwithstanding that it was the opinion of every British officer in the country that I ought to embark the army; while, on the other hand, the Portuguese civil authorities contended that the war ought to be maintained on the frontier, for which they wanted not only physical force, but the means of providing for the force which they could produce in the field. I believe that nothing but something worse than firmness could have carried me through the nine months' discussion with these contending opinions. To this add that people in England were changing their opinions almost with the wind, and you will see that I had not much to look to, excepting myself."
Nothing could be more ignoble than the conduct of the people of Lisbon as to the billeting of the very soldiers who had saved them from the enemy. On one occasion the Duke writes to order his wine, &c. to be removed from the house of a Signor Bandeira, and to have a house taken for him, "in order," he says, "to mortify the people of Lisbon a little as to their conduct about billets. I am slaving like a negro for them: I have saved the people, in Lisbon particularly, from the enemy, and I take nothing from them, while they continually torment me with their frivolous complaints on subjects on which they ought to have no feeling. * * I shall not be sorry if the government and principal people of Lisbon know the reason why I take this house; viz., that I will not lay myself under obligation to any of them." Strong language this, from a man of the Duke's impassible temperament. But unfortunately there was too much reason for this, and indeed, for much more animadversion on more serious subjects, as regards many of the chief men of the Peninsula.
Nor were these the only annoyances he had to submit to. In the early part of his service in the Peninsula, before he had by his brilliant deeds utterly silenced for the present and the future the cavillings of the envious, he was subjected to repeated attacks in Parliament, to predictions of failure—to everything in short that was calculated to dispirit him and his army. The government, too, seemed hardly to have "backed him up" as they might have done, either with respect to the force at his command, or their approval of his plans.
Nor were these attacks confined to parliament. On the 2nd January, 1810, writing to Mr. Villiers, he says: "You see the dash the Common Council have made at me! I act with a sword hanging over me, which will fall upon me, whatever may be the result of affairs here; but they may do what they please,—I shall not give up the game here as long as it can be played." Again, two months after, he refers to what has passed in parliament about him, and observes, "that it does not give him one moment's concern."
[Footnote 1: They had voted an address for an inquiry into his conduct.]
Throughout the dispatches and letters will be found very interesting passages referring to all these difficulties in his path.
In May, 1819, the British again advanced into Spain, and on the 21st of June completely defeated the French at Vittoria, for which the thanks of parliament were voted on the 8th of July. What was felt in another quarter will be seen by the following letter written by the Prince Regent.
To Field Marshal the Marquis of Wellington, K.G.
Carlton House, 3rd July, 1818
My dear Lord.—Your glorious conduct is beyond all human praise, and far above my reward. I know no language the world affords worthy to express it.
I feel I have nothing left to say, but most devoutly to offer up my prayer of gratitude to Providence, that it has, in its Omnipotent bounty, blessed my country and myself with such a general. You have sent me, amongst the trophies of your unrivalled fame, the staff of a French marshal, and I send you in return that of England.
The British army will hail it with rapturous enthusiasm, while the whole universe will acknowledge those valorous exploits which have so imperiously rallied for it.
That uninterrupted health and still increasing laurels may continue to crown you through a glorious and long career of life, are the never ceasing and most ardent wishes of, my dear lord, your very sincere and faithful friend.
On the 22nd, the Regency of Spain gave the Marquis of Wellington the estate of the Soto de Roma, in Granada, "in the name of the Spanish nation, in testimony of its sincere gratitude."
On the 28th of July, the French, under Marshal Soult, having re-entered Spain, the battle of Sovauren was fought; and on the 8th of September, St. Sebastian fell. On the 7th of October, the passage of the Bidassoa was effected; and on the 10th of November, the whole of the army descended into France. Other battles ensued; and on the 10th of April, 1814, was fought the final battle of Toulouse, which ended the war.
On the 3rd of May, the illustrious commander was advanced in the peerage by the titles of Marquis of Douro and Duke of Wellington; and, soon after, a grant of L400,000 was voted him by parliament. He arrived in England on the 23rd of June, and on the next day proceeded to Portsmouth to the Prince Regent, who was there with the allied monarchs.
A few days afterwards, a scene took place in the House of Lords—when for the first time the Duke took his seat there—enough to make a nation's heart beat with gratitude, pride, and exultation. It is thus described:
"On the 28th of June, shortly after 3 o'clock, the Lord Chancellor having taken his seat, the Duke of Wellington was introduced, supported by the Dukes of Richmond and Beaufort, in military uniform, and in their ducal robes. Being arrived in the body of the House, the Duke made the usual obeisance to the Lord Chancellor, and shewed his patent and right of summons: these noblemen then approached the table, where his Grace's various patents, as baron and viscount, earl, marquis, and lastly as duke, were each read by the clerks. The oaths were then administered, and the Test Rolls were signed by him. He then, accompanied by his noble supporters, took his seat on the dukes' bench, and saluted the house in the usual manner, by rising, taking off his hat, and bowing respectfully. The Lord Chancellor then rose, and, pursuant to their lordships' orders, addressed his Grace:—
"My Lord Duke of Wellington,—I have received the commands of this house, which I am persuaded has witnessed with infinite satisfaction your Grace's personal introduction to this august assembly, to return your grace the thanks and acknowledgments of this house, for your great and eminent services to your king and country."
"In the execution of these commands, I cannot forbear to call the especial attention of all who hear me to a fact in your Grace's life, singular, I believe, in the history of the country, and infinitely honourable to your Grace, that you have manifested, upon your first entrance into this house, your right, under various grants, to all the dignities in the peerage of this realm which the crown can confer. These dignities have been conferred at various periods, but in the short compass of little more than four years, for great public services, occurring in rapid succession, claiming the favour of the crown, influenced by its sense of justice to your grace and the country; and on no one occasion in which the crown has thus rewarded your merits have the Houses of Parliament been inattentive to your demands upon the gratitude of the country. Upon all such occasions, they have offered to your Grace their acknowledgments and thanks, the highest honours they could bestow."
"I decline all attempts to state your Grace's eminent merits in your military character; to represent those brilliant actions, those illustrious achievements, which have attached immortality to the name of Wellington, and which have given to this country a degree of glory unexampled in the annals of this kingdom. In thus acting, I believe I best consult the feelings which evince your Grace's title to the character of a truly great and illustrious man."
"My duty to this house cannot but make me most anxious not to fall short of the expectation which the house may have formed as to the execution of what may have been committed to me on this great occasion; but the most anxious consideration which I have given to the nature of that duty has convinced me that I cannot more effectually do justice to the judgment of the house, than by referring your Grace to the terms and language in which the house has so repeatedly expressed its own sense of the distinguished and consummate wisdom and judgment, the skill and ability, the prompt energy, the indefatigable exertion, perseverance, the fortitude and the valour, by which the victories of Vimeiro, Talavera, Salamanca and Vittoria were achieved; by which the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz were gloriously terminated; by which the deliverance of Portugal was effectuated; by which the ever memorable establishment of the allied armies on the frontiers of France was accomplished; armies pushing forward, in the glory of victory at Orthes, to the occupation of Bordeaux. These achievements, in their immediate consequence infinitely beneficial to the common cause, have, in their final results, secured the peace, prosperity, and glory of this country; whilst your Grace's example has animated to great exertions the other nations of Europe, exertions rescuing them from tyranny, and restoring them to independence, by which there has been ultimately established among the nations of Europe that balance of power which, giving sufficient strength to every nation, provides that no nation shall be too strong. I presume not to trespass upon the house by representing the personal satisfaction which I have derived from being the honoured instrument of conveying to your Grace the acknowledgments and thanks of this house upon every occasion upon which they have been offered to your Grace, or by endeavouring to represent the infinite gratification which I enjoy in thus offering, on behalf of the house, on this day, to your Grace in person, those acknowledgments and those thanks. Your Grace is now called to aid hereafter, by your wisdom and judgment, the great council of that nation, to the peace, prosperity, and glory of which your Grace has already so essentially contributed; and to tender your Grace, now taking your seat in this house, in obedience to its commands, the thanks of the house in the words of its resolution—That the thanks of this house be given to Field-marshal the Duke of Wellington, on his return from his command abroad, for his eminent and unremitting services to his majesty and the public."
The Duke answered the address to the following effect:—
"My lords, I have to perform a duty to which I feel myself very inadequate, to return your lordships my thanks for the fresh mark of your approbation of my conduct and of your favour."
"I assure your lordships that I am entirely overcome by the honours which have been conferred upon me; and by the favour with which I have been received in this country by the Prince Regent, by your lordships, and by the public."
"In truth, my lords, when I reflect upon the advantages which I enjoyed in the confidence reposed in me, and the support afforded by the government, and by his royal highness the commander-in-chief, in the cordial assistance which I invariably received upon all occasions from my gallant friends, the general officers of the army, who are an honour to their country, the gallantry and discipline of the troops, and in the manner in which I was encouraged and excited to exertion by the protection and gracious favour of the prince, I cannot but consider that, however great the difficulties with which I had to contend, the means to contend with them were equal to overcome them; and I am apprehensive that I shall not be found so deserving of your favour as I wish."
"If, however, my merit is not great, my gratitude is unbounded; and I can only assure your lordships, that you will always find me ready to serve his majesty to the utmost of my ability in any capacity in which my services can be at all useful to this great country."
His Grace then retired to unrobe; he wore a field-marshal's uniform, with his insignia of the garter. On his return into the House he sat for a few minutes on the extremity of one of the benches, and then retired for the evening.
In addition to the pecuniary remuneration voted by Parliament to the Duke of Wellington for his distinguished services, the House of Commons resolved to pay him the highest tribute of respect and applause that it was possible to bestow on a subject, that of its thanks, accompanied with a deputation of its members to congratulate him on his return to this country Lord Castlereagh rose in the house, on the 27th June, to make a motion for this purpose, which was unanimously agreed to; and a committee was appointed to wait on his Grace, to know what time he would name for receiving the congratulations of the house. Lord Castlereagh having reported from the committee that it was the Duke's desire to express to the house his answer in person, the following day, July 1, was appointed for the solemnity.
At about a quarter before five, the speaker being dressed in his official robes, and the house being crowded with members, some of them in military and naval uniforms, and many of them in the court dresses in which they had been attending the speaker with an address to the Prince Regent on the peace, the house was acquainted that the Duke of Wellington was in waiting. His admission being resolved on, and a chair being set for him on the left hand of the bar towards the middle of the house, his Grace entered, making his obeisances, while all the members rose from their seats. The speaker then informing him that a chair was placed for his repose, he sat down in it for some time, covered, the serjeant standing on his right hand with the mace grounded, and the members resumed their seats. He then rose, and spoke, uncovered, to the following effect:—
"Mr. Speaker,—I was anxious to be permitted to attend this house, in order to return my thanks in person for the honour they have done me in deputing a committee of their members to congratulate me on my return to this country; and this, after the house had animated my exertions by their applause upon every occasion which appeared to merit their approbation, and after they had filled up the measure of their favours by conferring upon me, upon the recommendation of the Prince Regent, the noblest gift that any subject had ever received."
"I hope it will not be deemed presumptuous in me to take this opportunity of expressing my admiration of the great efforts made by this house and the country at a moment of unexampled pressure and difficulty, in order to support the great scale of operations by which the contest was brought to so fortunate a termination. By the wise policy of parliament, the government was enabled to give the necessary support to the operations which were carried on under my direction; and I was encouraged by the confidence reposed in me by his majesty's ministers, and by the commander-in-chief, by the gracious favour of his royal highness the Prince Regent, and by the reliance which I had on the support of my gallant friends the general officers of the army, and on the bravery of the officers and troops, to carry on the operations in such a manner as to acquire for me those marks of the approbation of this house, for which I have now the honor to make my humble acknowledgments."
"Sir, it is impossible for me to express the gratitude which I feel; I can only assure the house that I shall always be ready to serve his majesty in any capacity in which my services can be deemed useful, with the same zeal for my country which has already acquired for me the approbation of this house."
This speech was received with loud cheers, at the end of which the speaker, who had sat covered during its delivery, rose, and thus addressed his Grace:—
"My Lord,—Since last I had the honour of addressing you from this place, a series of eventful years has elapsed; but none without some mark and note of your rising glory."
"The military triumphs which your valour has achieved upon the banks of the Douro and the Tagus, of the Ebro and the Garonne, have called forth the spontaneous shouts of admiring nations. Those triumphs it is needless on this day to recount. Their names have been written by your conquering sword in the annals of Europe, and we hand them down with exultation to our children's children."
"It is not, however, the grandeur of military success which has alone fixed our admiration, or commanded our applause; it has been that generous and lofty spirit which inspired your troops with unbounded confidence, and taught them to know that the day of battle was always a day of victory; that moral courage and enduring fortitude, which, in perilous times, when gloom and doubt had beset ordinary minds, stood nevertheless unshaken; and that ascendancy of character, which, uniting the energies of jealous and rival nations, enabled you to wield at will the fate of mighty empires."
"For the repeated thanks and grants bestowed upon you by this house, in gratitude for your many and eminent services, you have thought fit this day to offer us your acknowledgments: but this nation well knows that it is still largely your debtor. It owes to you the proud satisfaction, that, amidst the constellation of great and illustrious warriors who have recently visited our country, we could present to them a leader of our own, to whom all, by common acclamation, conceded the pre-eminence; and when the will of heaven, and the common destinies of our nature, shall have swept away the present generation, you will have left your great name and example as an imperishable monument, exciting others to like deeds of glory, and serving at once to adorn, defend, and perpetuate the existence of this country amongst the ruling nations of the earth."
"It now remains only that we congratulate your Grace upon the high and important mission on which you are about to proceed, and we doubt not that the same splendid talents, so conspicuous in war, will maintain, with equal authority, firmness, and temper, our national honour and interests in peace."
His Grace then withdrew, making the same obeisance as when he entered; and all the members rising again, he was reconducted by the serjeant to the door of the house.
On the 7th July, when the Prince Regent went in state to St. Paul's, to return public thanksgiving for the restoration of peace, the Duke of Wellington was seated on the right hand of his royal highness, with the sword of state before him.
On the 9th, the Duke was entertained by the corporation of London in the Guildhall, and previously to the banquet he was presented with a sword of exquisite workmanship, which had been voted him by the common council. Four years and a half before, as will be remembered, the Duke was publicly attacked by this same common council, and he then says, "I act with a sword hanging over me." During the interval, the common council had learned to apply their sword to a better purpose. In fact, all ranks, from the highest to the lowest, now combined to do honour to the Duke of Wellington.
When Buonaparte landed from Elba, the Duke was at Vienna, the representative of this country at the congress of the allied sovereigns. From that point he wrote to Lord Castlereagh, stating the interview he had had with the sovereigns on the subject of Buonaparte's movements, and adding that he had no doubt whatever of their support, and their determination not to lay down their arms until Buonaparte was put down. A numerous force was assembled, and of the whole, whether British or foreign, in Belgium (already seen to be the point on which the fate of Napoleon would be decided), the Duke of Wellington assumed the command. The campaign was closed by the decisive victory of Waterloo, on the 18th June, followed by the abdication of Napoleon, and the convention of Paris.
During the subsequent proceedings, the Duke of Wellington was instrumental in stopping the savage revenge of Blucher and the Prussians, who were on the point of destroying the beautiful bridge on the Seine, called the bridge of Jena, because it had been named in honour of Napoleon's victory over the Prussians at that place.
The Duke, however, did not interpose to prevent another act, which was one of real justice, the restoration to the several nations of the various works of art of which they had been plundered by the French. It was in answer to complaints of his conduct in this respect that the Duke wrote his letter to Castlereagh, in which he said—"It is to be wished, as well for the happiness of France as of the world, that if the French people are not already convinced that Europe is too strong for them, they may be made to feel that, however extensive for a time their temporary and partial advantages over one or more of the powers of Europe may be, the day of retribution must at length come. According to my feelings, then, it would not only be unjust in the sovereigns to gratify the French people, but the sacrifice they would make would be impolitic, as it would deprive them of the opportunity of giving the French nation a great moral lesson."
The thanks of both houses were voted to the Duke for the battle of Waterloo, and an additional grant of 200,000 l.
From the year 1815 until 1823 the Duke of Wellington's name rarely appears in connexion with any public transactions, with the exception that in December, 1818, he was appointed Master-General of the Ordnance, an office which he continued to fill for some years.
In 1819 he made one speech in parliament in which his declared his belief that Roman Catholic Emancipation was impossible, unless there could be a proper security for the Protestant religion, which he doubted.
In the year 1823, on the appointment of Mr. Canning to be Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Duke of Wellington was named as the Plenipotentiary of the King of Great Britain at the Congress of Verona. It was supposed that the subject matter of the discussions of the sovereigns at that congress would be the relations of Russia and Turkey. On the Duke's arrival at Paris, however, he found that Spain would form the main subject. He wrote back for fresh instructions, and Mr. Canning's answer distinctly stated that should France attempt to interfere in Spain either by force or by menace, he was to instruct the Duke "frankly and peremptorily to declare, that to any such interference, come what may, his majesty will not be a party."
The words "frankly and peremptorily" could not have been better chosen, or more agreeable to the character of the Duke. He stuck simply and stedfastly to his text throughout the negotiations, and when at last, in consequence of the state of affairs in Spain, the three great powers agreed to withdraw their ministers from Madrid, the Duke told them he should not withdraw ours but leave him there in the hope of allaying the irritation which the measures of the others were calculated to produce.
The Duke returned to Parts in December, and found the French not indisposed to some arrangement. When it subsequently became necessary to send a special communication to the Spanish government, a mark of respect was paid by Mr. Canning to the Duke of Wellington, more gratifying perhaps to him than his titles or honours. The desire of the British Government was to attach a special character of friendliness to this communication, and for that purpose the Duke of Wellington was requested to make it. This course was taken because it was believed that the private opinions of a man who had conferred such distinguished benefits on Spain, and who had been on terms of personal intercourse and friendship with many of the leading men, would be listened to with more deference than even an official communication. It is unnecessary to pursue this subject farther, as the Duke of Wellington's connexion with it ceased; except that he gave, in the House of Lords, on the 24th of April, a full explanation of his share in the proceedings.
In 1826, the Duke having been appointed ambassador to St. Petersburgh, on the anniversary of the entrance of the allied army into Paris under his command, the Emperor Nicholas addressed a letter to him, in which he told him that in order to testify to him his particular esteem for his great qualities and for the distinguished services he had rendered to the whole of Europe, he had given orders that the Smolensko regiment of infantry, formed by Peter the Great, and one of the most distinguished of his army, which was formerly under the Duke's command in France, should thenceforward be called the Duke of Wellington's regiment.
In 1827, on the death of the Duke of York, the public mind pointed to the Duke of Wellington as the fit successor of his royal highness in the important post of Commander-in-Chief, and he was immediately appointed. The Duke held this office until the appointment of Mr. Canning to be Prime Minister, when he resigned it, and also the Master-Generalship of the Ordnance.
The circumstances attending this resignation must of course hold a prominent place in any memoir of the Duke. But there were personal matters mixed up in the affair, which make it necessary to enter into it at some length, for the better understanding of his Grace's character.
On the death of the Earl of Liverpool, in the beginning of the year 1827, the king called on Mr. Canning to form an administration. As Mr. Canning had all along advocated Roman Catholic Emancipation, and as the cabinet of Lord Liverpool had firmly opposed that measure, it became a question how far the premiership of Mr. Canning would compromise the position of those who had hitherto acted with him in the cabinet of Lord Liverpool. The question very soon received a practical solution, by the simultaneous (though not concerted) resignation of six of the most influential members of the government, including the Duke of Wellington.
The political friends of Mr. Canning, and those of his opponents with whom he was agreed on the Roman Catholic question, concurred in representing this act of the seceding ministers as a cabal against Mr. Canning; and the Duke of Wellington, more especially, was made the subject of most unsparing abuse. The ground of this was that he had not contented himself with resigning the office he held directly under the government, but had also resigned the command of the army, an office unconnected with politics. This was supposed to indicate some special determination to crush Mr. Canning.
Now with regard to the motives of the Duke on this occasion all men will form their own opinion, not so much with reference to facts, as to their political feelings. It may however be fairly laid down as a principle that where admitted facts sufficiently supply an explanation of a man's conduct, all reference to motives are unnecessary; and the more so because in all cases, however strong suspicion or presumptive evidence may be, the truth with regard to a man's motives must ever remain locked in his own breast. The open, manly and fearless character of the Duke would however, except in the heated imagination of partisans, almost preclude suspicion in the first instance.
But let us turn to the facts, as stated in the house of lords on the 2nd of May, when the peers met after the Easter recess. On the 10th of April Mr. Canning wrote to the Duke of Wellington the following letter:—
To his Grace the Duke of Wellington.
Foreign Office, April 10, 6 P.M., 1827.
My dear Duke of Wellington,—The king has, at an audience from which I have just returned, been graciously pleased to signify to me his majesty's commands, to lay before his majesty, with as little loss as time as possible, a plan of arrangements for the re-construction of the administration. In executing these commands it will be as much my own wish, as it is my duty to his majesty, to adhere to the principles upon which Lord Liverpool's government has so long acted together. I need not add how essentially the accomplishment must depend upon your Grace's continuing a member of the cabinet.
Ever, my dear Duke of Wellington, your Grace's sincere and faithful servant,
To this the Duke of Wellington replied in a characteristic way:—
To the Right Hon. George Canning.
London, April 10, 1827.
My dear Mr. Canning,—I have received your letter of this evening, informing me that the king had desired you to lay before his majesty a plan for the re-construction of the administration; and that, in executing these commands, it was your wish to adhere to the principles on which Lord Liverpool's government had so long acted together. I anxiously desire to be able to serve his majesty, as I have done hitherto in his cabinet, with the same colleagues. But before I can give an answer to your obliging proposition, I should wish to know who the person is you intend to propose to his majesty as the head of the government?
Ever, my dear Mr. Canning, yours most sincerely,
On the next day came the following from Mr. Canning:—
To his Grace the Duke of Wellington.
Foreign Office, April 11, 1897.
My dear Duke of Wellington,—I believed it to be so generally understood, that the king usually intrusts the formation of an administration to the individual whom it is his majesty's gracious intention to place at the head of it; that it did not occur to me, when I communicated to your Grace yesterday the commands which I had just received from his majesty, to add, that, in the present instance, his majesty does not intend to depart from the usual course of proceeding on such occasions. I am sorry to have delayed some hours this answer to your Grace's letter; but from the nature of the subject, I did not like to forward it without having previously submitted it (together with your Grace's letter) to his Majesty.
Ever, my dear Duke of Wellington, your Grace's sincere and faithful servant,
And finally, on the evening of the same day, the Duke wrote thus to Mr. Canning.—
London, April 11, 1837.
My dear Mr. Canning,—I have received your letter of this day, and I did not understand the one of yesterday evening as you explained it to me. I understood from yourself that you had in contemplation another arrangement, and I do not believe that the practice to which you refer has been so invariable as to enable me to affix a meaning to your letter which its words did not, in my opinion, convey. I trust that you will have experienced no inconvenience from the delay of this answer, which I assure you has been occasioned by my desire to discover a mode by which I could continue united with my recent colleagues.—I sincerely wish that I could bring my mind to the conclusion that, with the best intentions on your part, your government could be conducted practically on the principles of that of Lord Liverpool; that it would be generally so considered; or that it would be adequate to meet our difficulties, in a manner satisfactory to the king, or conducive to the interests of the country. As, however, I am convinced that these principles must be abandoned eventually, that all our measures would be viewed with suspicion by the usual supporters of the government; that I could do no good in the cabinet; and that at last I should be obliged to separate myself from it, at the moment at which such separation would be more inconvenient to the king's service than it can be at present, I must beg you to request his majesty to excuse me from belonging to his councils. Ever, my dear Mr. Canning, yours most sincerely,
This closed the correspondence; and it is needless to add that the Duke continued to hold aloof from the new administration.
The Duke's explanation in the House of Lords related to two branches of charge. The first was a charge of want of personal courtesy to Mr. Canning, as exhibited in the foregoing correspondence; the second was a general charge of hostility to the new premier, founded on personal jealousy, and on every other ground, probable or improbable, which the malice of party could suggest. The Duke began by observing, that the House of Lords was scarcely the proper place to enter on such subjects, but that his only excuse was the necessity of vindicating his character against what had been said in another place, to say nothing of the manner in which he had been treated by a corrupt press, which if not in the pay, was under the control of the government. He then proceeded to meet the first charge, that of personal discourtesy. It was said, that his asking in reply to Mr. Canning's first letter, "who was to be at the head of the new government?" was intended as an insult to Mr. Canning. This he denied. The letter of Mr. Canning, he said gave no information who were to form the new cabinet, or what members of the old one had resigned, or were expected to resign. Nor was he invited, as he found the other ministers had been, to receive personal explanations on the subject. Under those circumstances the inquiry was made. But that was not the first communication that had passed between them on the subject. Early in the month of April, continued the Duke, he had had a conversation with Mr. Canning, in which, anticipating the possibility of his being called upon to reconstruct the government, one of his plans was to recommend that Mr. Robinson (now the Earl of Ripon) should be raised to the peerage and be made premier. Of this plan the Duke at the time approved, and it was with this in his mind that he wrote the first answer, which gave Mr. Canning so much offence. Precedent, also, he contended, was against Mr. Canning; for it appeared that in 1812, when Lord Liverpool, by command of the Prince Regent, waited on Mr. Canning, to know whether he would form part of the proposed administration, the first question Mr. Canning asked of the noble earl (then in the same position Mr. Canning was in now) was, "who was to be at the head of the new administration?" The Duke's letter was written on the 10th, and Mr. Canning only kissed hands as minister on the 12th; so that, even in that point of view, the Duke's question was, he contended, necessary.
It may be said that there is enough on the face of this communication to show that the Duke of Wellington took a narrow, and, so to speak, technical, view of the relative positions of himself and Mr. Canning; that the latter expected a more conventional and generous construction of his position and proposal from one with whom he was on terms of intimate friendship.
In answer to this, it may be as well to remind the reader that, where the slightest movements of public men may be construed into a compromise of public principles, a rigid attention to etiquette becomes a matter of duty. Many acts of the Duke of Wellington, not merely as a civilian, but even as a military commander, have been misjudged, because this obvious principle has been overlooked.
In answer to the second charge—that of hostility to the new administration on personal grounds—the Duke referred to the known opinions of Mr. Canning on the Catholic question. How could he be in office under a minister whom he must oppose on, at least, one vital question of domestic policy? How could he give the right honourable gentleman that fair support which one member of a cabinet had a right to expect from another? The principles of the new government could not be those of that of the Earl of Liverpool. The principle of the latter was to maintain the existing laws; of the former, to change them in a fundamental particular. The absurd calumny that he had threatened the king to resign, unless he were prepared to make him prime minister, hardly deserved an answer; and then came his celebrated nolo episcopari speech, which created against him in a year after, so much ridicule and rancour. He said—"Was it likely that he would resign the office of commander-in-chief," a situation so consonant to his feelings and his habits, "for the mere empty ambition of being placed at the head of the government. I know," continued the Duke, "I am disqualified for any such office; and I, therefore, say, that, feeling as I do with respect to the situation which I recently filled at the head of the army; liking it as I did from the opportunity it gave me to improve the condition of my old comrades in arms; knowing my own capacity for filling that office, and my incapacity for filling the post of first minister, I should have been mad, and worse than mad, if I had ever entertained the insane project which certain individuals, for their own base purposes, have imputed to me."
His reason for retiring from the command of the army was founded on the peculiar circumstances of his dispute with Mr. Canning. "No political opinions would have prevented him," he said, "under ordinary circumstances, from continuing either at the Horse Guards or at the head of the army in the field; but, from the tone and tenor of the communication he had received from his majesty; from the nature of the invitation to join the administration, contained in Mr. Canning's post letter, and from the contents of the last letter he received from Mr. Canning, by his majesty's commands, he saw it would be impossible to continue his relations with that gentlemen, either with service to the country or credit to himself. His resolution had been adopted after the most mature deliberation."
The foregoing is the substance of the Duke of Wellington's explanation of his own share in the general resignation of the chief members of Lord Liverpool's cabinet.
Another circumstance occurred a few days afterwards, which still further increased the public belief that there was a serious quarrel between the Duke and the new premier. The former moved an amendment in committee on the corn bill, which had the effect of defeating the new government on that measure. This was regarded as an act of hostility on the part of the Duke, and, shortly after, a correspondence was made public between him and Mr. Huskisson, then President of the Board of Trade, in which it appeared clear that the Duke had moved the amendment in the belief that the government had agreed to it through Mr. Huskisson, and equally clear that the Duke had been mistaken. There were not wanting those who asserted roundly that the Duke had taken advantage of an ambiguity in Mr. Huskisson's letters, in order to have a pretext for inflicting this injury on the government. And, unhappily, Mr. Canning himself, carried out of parliamentary decorum by an irritability of temper, springing from the difficulties of his position and from his advancing illness, went so far as publicly to declare that the Duke of Wellington, great man as he was, had been but in instrument in the hands of others. History, he said, afforded parallel the actions of other great men.
The Duke maintained a dignified silence with respect to this attack; but, in the following year, long after Mr. Canning's death, and when he had himself become prime minister, he took an opportunity of disclaiming, in strong language, the existance of any personal hostility on his part to the deceased statesman.
On the formation of the new administration, under Lord Goderich, the Duke of Wellington resumed the command of the army. This was on August the 27th.
Early in January, 1828, this administration fell to pieces, and the Duke of Wellington was called on by the king to form another. He was at first reluctant to do so, but ultimately gave way. He rallied round him Mr. Peel, and most of those who had seceded on the accession of Mr. Canning; so that his administration was nearly identical with that of the Earl of Liverpool, except that Mr. Huskisson and some two or three of the coalitionary whigs, were retained.
In the following May, these were got rid of. Mr. Huskisson gave a vote on the East Retford Bill, adverse to those of his colleagues; and on leaving the house, sat down (at two in the morning), and wrote a letter to the Duke, which was construed into a positive resignation of office. An amusing correspondence took place between the two statesmen, Mr. Huskisson declaring he never meant to resign, and the Duke as positively adhering to his original construction of the first letter. Mr. Huskisson's place was filled up, and he resented that proceeding by declaring in the House of Commons his belief that he had been sacrificed as a peace-offering to gain the support of some of the old tories.
The whole of the Duke's share in this correspondence is highly characteristic; and it was in the course of negotiations for the return of Mr. Huskisson that the Duke uttered the sentence so often quoted of him: "It is no mistake; it can be no mistake; and it shall be no mistake!" Strange to say, although the Duke's mode of proceeding to Mr. Huskisson was somewhat arbitrary, it gained him a sort of popularity, on account of the firmness with which he stuck to his point. The laugh was fairly on his side; and many of the vessels in the Thames hoisted flags, and exhibited other signs of rejoicing at Mr. Huskisson's dismissal.
On his appointment to be Prime Minister, the Duke again resigned the command of the army (Feb. 14th).
The first important measure, during the Duke's administration, was the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. In giving his support to that bill, the Duke met an argument, that it was a step towards Roman Catholic emancipation, by a declaration that, though he voted for the measure, no man could be a more determined opponent of those claims than he; and he added, "Until I see a great change in that question, I shall certainly oppose it." In the June following, however, the commons having in the meanwhile passed a resolution indicating favour to emancipation, the Duke declared that he looked on the question as one of expediency; and concluded his speech by recommending that the public mind should be allowed to rest. In the end, it might be possible to do something; for he was most desirous of seeing the subject brought to an amicable conclusion.
Causes altogether independent of parliamentary majorities or discussions had in the mean time been at work, and had proposed this change in the tone of ministers. Mr. O'Connell, although a Catholic, had been returned to parliament as member for the county of Clare; and during the summer and autumn, the whole of the Catholic population had become so organized, under the Catholic Association, as seriously to threaten the continuance of the existing system in Ireland. These events produced their effects upon English statesmen on either side of the question; and the more moderate of the Conservative party began to think that some concession to the Catholics would be inevitable.
Still, however, the government gave no sign of yielding. On the contrary, a circumstance occurred, in the month of December, which led to an opposite inference. Dr. Curtis, a Roman Catholic prelate, who had been on terms of personal acquaintance with the Duke of Wellington at Salamanca, wrote a letter to him on the position of the Catholic question, to which the Duke wrote an answer, which seemed to deny all hope of a speedy settlement. It was immediately made public by Dr. Curtis through the Catholic Association. The effect of the letter was to make that body redouble their efforts.
In a few days after, the Marquis of Anglesea, the lord lieutenant, who had always been the avowed supporter of the Catholics, also addressed a letter in reply to one he received from Dr. Curtis, in which he gave the Catholics advice as to the best mode of proceeding in order to attain emancipation. This conduct on the part of the viceroy, together with the open countenance he gave to the leading catholics in Dublin, gave the strongest offence to the king, and amounted to such a breach of duty that the Duke of Wellington was compelled to recall the marquis from Ireland.
The public mind was now in the greatest perplexity. On the one hand, the state of Ireland seemed to render some measure of concession inevitable, while on the other there was the letter to Dr. Curtis, and the dismissal of the lord lieutenant—facts which seemed to discountenance all hope.
The year 1829 was the most eventful in the civil career of the Duke of Wellington. He had been throughout his life the opponent of Roman Catholic emancipation: he was now to come before the public in the new character of a prime minister prepared to grant, as a measure of free grace, that which he had hitherto denounced as inconsistent with the safety of the Protestant constitution.
Up to within a few days of the opening of parliament, however, the design of the government was wholly concealed, but in the speech from the throne parliament was recommended to entertain the question. In the debate on the address the Duke of Wellington announced it as the intention of the government to introduce a measure for the emancipation of the Catholics. And now arose a political storm almost unparalleled in the history of party, from the effects of which we are scarcely yet recovered.
The Duke and Mr. Peel were immediately made the objects of the most unrelenting hostility by the opponents of emancipation. Seeing the favour in which the two statesmen are now held by their party, it would be almost impossible to believe that such abusive language as was then poured forth could have been used towards them, were it not on record.
The Duke especially was charged with a treble treachery; to Mr. Canning, on account of the transactions previously referred to; towards the Protestant party, of whom he had been the chosen leader, and whom he was about to betray; and lastly a personal treachery in the concealment of his design until the moment of execution, by which he prevented others from coming forward and taking the station he had abandoned, as leader of the opponents of emancipation.
The Duke's replies to all these charges will be found at length in the following pages. But the charge of personal treachery was afterwards put in a shape which compelled the Duke of Wellington to take a very different notice of it. The Earl of Winchelsea wrote a letter to the secretary of King's College, in which, after adverting to the support which the Duke had given on Protestant principles to that institution, he stated that he now believed that the Duke's conduct had been only a blind to the high church party, and that he was about, under the cloak of the Protestant religion, to carry into effect his insidious designs for the infringement of our liberties, and the introduction of Popery into every department of the state. This letter the Duke found himself bound to notice; but the earl refused to retract. A correspondence took place, which ended in a duel. Neither party was hurt, and the earl subsequently made a public apology for the original expressions.
In the meanwhile the Emancipation Bill was steadily progressing. On the 19th of February, in introducing the bill for the suppression of dangerous associations, the Duke of Wellington declared that there had been no previous bargain or compact with the Roman Catholic party while the Emancipation Bill was in the House of Commons. Short discussions took place almost every night in the House of Lords upon its merits, in which whenever the Duke joined he did so with the greatest reluctance. At length, on the 2nd of April, he moved the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords, in a speech which reflected credit upon him for moral courage, if not for consistency.
In fact, great moral courage is one of the most striking features in the character of the Duke of Wellington. Some of his supporters will doubt this assertion; and will point to the Emancipation Act as a proof that the Duke wanted the firmness to act up to his avowed principles. This involves a wrong assumption. It is one thing obstinately to adhere to an opinion in defiance of its impracticability: another to retract that opinion so soon as its impracticability is demonstrated. Whether the Duke was right or wrong in his opinions, no one will deny that it required great moral courage for him to stand up in the face of the country, braving the anger of his old associates, and declare that he could no longer resist the force of public opinion.
It was in the course of the speech introducing the Emancipation Bill that the Duke made his well-known declaration "that he would sacrifice his life to prevent one month of civil war."
One fruit of the angry passions excited during the progress of the Emancipation Bill was a series of prosecutions against the Morning Journal for libels on the Duke of Wellington, the Lord Chancellor, and the government collectively. These prosecutions were conducted with unusual acrimony by Sir James Scarlet, the Attorney-General; and the Duke of Wellington came in for a very considerable share of public censure for having authorised such prosecutions. Probably the Duke intended to inflict another "great moral lesson," as he has always set his face against the unrestrained license of the press; but, looking back with calmer feelings to the events of that excited period, and admitting that the language used by the editor was certainly too strong, though faithfully representing the feelings of a large class of the public, it is certainly difficult to avoid now coming to the conclusion that Mr. Alexander, when sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment in Newgate and heavy fines, was treated with a severity scarcely justifiable. It is probable that the Duke of Wellington, acting on his rigid notions of the division of responsibility, after ordering the prosecution, left the affair to Sir James Scarlet, and from that moment declined to interfere.
Among the discussions to which the prosecutions gave rise, an amusing speech of Sir Charles Wetherell, on the 2nd of March, 1830, in the House of Commons, will repay perusal.
In a debate which took place in the House of Lords on the first night of the session, upon the state of the country, the Duke of Wellington delivered a speech upon the causes of the existing distress, which proved (allowances being made for differences of opinion) that his qualifications to deal with the most intricate questions involved in civil government were very little inferior to his military talents. Passages from that speech will be found in the following pages. At the time many of his views were ridiculed by those political economists who were destined so soon to rise to power under shelter of the reform question; but it will be seen that the improved experience of the country after ten years' undisputed sway of those gentlemen, confirms many of the chief conclusion to which the astute and practical mind of the Duke of Wellington then led him. That speech, however, raised a hornet's nest around him in the House of Commons. Among others, Sir Francis Burdett made a personal attack on the Duke, in which he said that his administration showed how correct was his estimate of his own powers when he said he would be mad to think of being prime minister. That illustrious individual, he said, had been treated with much tenderness, because he had conferred the greatest benefits on his country; but if his services had been great his recompense had been great also. Mr. Brougham, also, made a most personal attack on the Duke on the day before parliament closed.
In the mean while, George the Fourth died (on the 26th of June), and parliament was dissolved. The new parliament, called by William the Fourth, was opened by the king in person on November the 2nd. It was decidedly unfavourable to the ministry, against whom were arrayed a most talented and unscrupulous opposition. They swayed with almost absolute power the great mass of the people, who hoped everything from parliamentary reform, and had not as yet had experience of the extravagance of such hopes. A part of the tactics of the whig leaders was to excite personal animosity against the Duke of Wellington, who was libelled as a sort of would-be military dictator, seeking to introduce in civil affairs the iron discipline of the camp, and to ride rough shod over a free people.
With the clamour for reform out of doors and in the commons, it was not to be supposed that even the impassible Duke of Wellington could avoid referring to the subject in the debate on the address. This he did, with more candour than prudence, by his well-known declaration against reform, and in favour of the existing system. It will be found at length elsewhere. The excitement it produced was enormous: so great, that in three days afterwards ministers advised William the Fourth not to proceed to the City to visit the Lord Mayor, lest there should be tumults.
On the 15th, they were defeated in the House of Commons, upon a motion of Sir Henry Parnell, for a committee to inquire into the civil list; and on the following day the Duke of Wellington and his colleagues resigned; being apprehensive that the same majority would vote for the principle of parliamentary reform in a day or two after, and not wishing to virtually give up that question by going out after being beaten on it in the House of Commons.