« PreviousContinue »
left out. Mr. Sheridan declared, he had not himself made up his mind as to the whole of its present contents; but all he meant to do then was, to move for leave to bring it in; to have it read a first time, and printed; and then to leave it till the next session, for the consideration of gentlemen during the recess. He added, farther, that he should graft a plan upon it, for the advantageous employment of those youths who now led a life of infamy and idleness. Mr. Sheridan concluded with moving,
"That leave be given to bring in a bill, more effectually to supply His Majesty's ships of war with seamen, when occasion shall require; and to encourage men, under certain regulations and bounties, voluntarily to engage themselves for that service, whenever they shall be duly called for."
Mr. Brett complained of having been attacked and vilified in the newspapers, by the authors of the bill, by name, for the language which he held in that house respecting it as a member of parliament.
Such abuse he considered as an attack on the freedom of debate, and he had declared that he more than once had it in contemplation, to make a formal complaint upon the subject.
Mr. Sheridan assured the right honorable gentleman, that if he thought he had any hand in the newspaper attacks alluded to, he was mistaken. He considered the measure merely, and not the men, who were the authors and suggesters of it.
Lord Hood rose to combat some ideas which he conceived to be in the bill; and which, he said, he knew from experience could not be adopted without great inconvenience.
Mr. Sheridan begged leave to assure the noble lord, that no such ideas, as those to which his lordship had alluded, were contained in the bill. He begged, that gentlemen in general would pend their opinions till the bill should be printed; and reminded the house, that he had declared, he had not himself made up his ideas to all the contents of the bill,
The question being put, the resolution was agreed to
AFFAIRS OF THE PRINCE OF WALES.
On the 20th of April, previous to the opening of the budget, a subject was brought forward in the house, by Mr. Alderman Newnham, which had for some time before, strongly engaged the attention and feelings of the public; namely, the embarrassed state of the finances of the Prince of Wales. The establishment of His Royal Highness's household, took place upon his coming of age, in 1783, during the Duke of Portland's administration. It is well known that a great difference of opinion subsisted, at that time, between the great personage with whom the final settlement of the affair rested, and the persons whose duty it was to give him their advice upon the subject, respecting the sum to be allowed for that purpose. Upon a full consideration of what was thought becoming the credit of the nation, and the exalted rank of the heir apparent to the throne:-the great encrease in the value of every article of expenditure, and the economy of such a liberal provision, as might totally supersede the necessity of incurring debt. The ministers of that day are said to have proposed that an annual income should be settled upon him by parliament of 100,000l. This proposition is said to have been not only entirely disapproved of by the King, but rejected with expressions of such marked resentment, as to make the immediate resignation of those ministers more than probable. In this emergency, the Prince of Wales, who had early manifested a favorable opinion of that party, interposed, and gave the world, upon this his first step in public life, a striking proof both of his filial duty, and public spirit. He signified his desire, that the whole business should be left to the King; and declared his readiness to accept of whatever provision the King in his wisdom and goodness should think most fit: and at the same time he expressed his earnest wishes that no misunderstanding should arise between the King, and his then ministers, on account of any arrangement in which his personal interest only was concerned. In consequence of this interference, the affair appears to have been accommodated; and an allowance of 50,000l. a year, payable out of the civil list revenue, was settled upon His Royal Highness. A very few years experience made it but too manifest that this provision was inadequate to the purpose for which it was designed. In 1786 the Prince was found to have contracted a debt to the amount of 100,000l. exclusive of 50,000l. and upwards, expended on Carlton House. The Prince was no sooner made acquainted with the embarrassed state of his affairs, and the great distress in which it necessarily involved a considerable number of his creditors, than he came to a resolution of taking some effectual measures for their relief. His first application was to the King his father; upon whose affection alone he wished to rely, and to whose judgment he declared his readiness to submit his part, and to conform his future conduct. By His Majesty's directions a full account of the Prince's affairs
were laid before him; but from some dissatisfaction in the mind of his majesty, a direct refusal to afford him any relief was conveyed to His Royal Highness through one of the principal officers of state. In consequence of this refusal, the Prince appears to have conceived himself bound in honor and justice, to have recourse to the only expedient that was now left him. His determination was prompt and manly. The day after he received the message from the King, he dismissed the officers of his court, and reduced the establishment of his household, to that of a private gentleman. He ordered his horses to be sold; the works at Carlton House to be stopped; and such parts as were not necessary for his personal uses to be shut up. From these savings, an annual sum of 40,0007. was set apart and vested in the hands of trustees, for the payment of his debts. This conduct, however laudable it may appear, did not escape censure; it was represented as precipitate and disrespectful to the King; and was said to have been a principal cause of difference with His Majesty. An event which An event which happened soon after, afforded a public proof of the displeasure he had incurredviz. the danger to which His Majesty's life was exposed in August, 1786. Upon that occasion no notice whatever of the accident was conveyed to the Prince by the court. He learned it at Brighton, from the information of a private correspondent; he immediately flew to Windsor, where he was received by the Queen; but the King did not see him. It was impossible that the situation, to which the heir apparent to the throne was reduced, should be regarded with indifference, either at home or abroad; and what made the indignity of his condition the more generally felt and lamented, was, that no man was ever more highly qualified by distinguished affability, amiable manners, and a noble and liberal disposition to adorn the splendor to which his exalted birth entitled him. The Duke of Orleans, the richest individual in Europe, who was at this time upon a visit in this country, it is reported, pressed the Prince in the strongest manner to make use of his fortune, till some favorable change should take place in his circumstances, to whatever extent he might find necessary. This offer, though doubtless, generously intended; yet full of danger in its possible tendency to the public welfare, the Prince, from a nice sense of duty to the public, declined. The same public principle with held him, also, from availing himself of those resources which the usurious speculations of monied men, are well known to keep constantly open in this nation to the temporary wants of the necessitous. It was in these circumstances of private distress and public spirit, that the expedient was suggested to His Royal Highness by several respectable members of the house of commons, of appealing to the justice and generosity of the nation in parlia ment. To this measure the Prince appears to have assented, not more from a natural wish to free himself from his pecuniary embarrassments, than from a desire to do away any bad impression, that the misfortune of having incurred the royal displeasure, and the con sequent refusal of affording him any relief, might have left upon the
minds of the public. Accordingly, on the day already mentioned, 20th of April, Mr. Alderman Newnham demanded, in his place, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether it was the intention of His Majesty's Ministers to bring forward any proposition for rescuing the Prince of Wales from his present embarrassed and distressed situation. For though his conduct, under the difficulties with which he laboured, reflected the highest honor upon his character; yet he thought it would bring indelible disgrace upon the nation, if he were suffered to remain any longer in his present reduced circumstances. To this question Mr. Pitt replied, "that it was not his duty to bring forward a subject of the nature that had been mentioned, excepting by the command of His Majesty; and that he had not been honoured with such a command. Upon this Mr. Newnham gave notice of his intention to bring the subject regularly, by a motion, before the house, on the 4th of May. In the mean time the friends of the Prince were indefatigable in their endeavors to procure the support of the independent members of parliament to the proposed motion; and at several meetings, which were held for that purpose, their numbers were so considerable as to give cause of serious alarm to the minister. On the 24th of April, Mr. Pitt, after requesting that Mr. Newnham would inform the house more particularly of the nature of the motion he intended to make, adverted to the extreme delicacy of the subject, and declared that the knowledge he possessed of many circumstances relating to it, made him extremely anxious to persuade the house, if possible, to prevent the discussion of it. Should, however, the honorable member persist in his determination to bring it forward, it would be absolutely necessary to lay those circumstances before the public; and, however distressing it might prove to him as an individual, from the profound respect he had for every part of the Royal Family, he should discharge his duty to the public, and enter fully into the subject. At the same time, Mr. Rolle, an adherent of the ministers, who distinguished himself greatly by his zeal upon this occasion, declared that the question involved matter by which the constitution, both in church and state, might be essentially affected; and that if the friends of the Prince of Wales persisted in their attempt, it would be necessary to enquire into those circumstances also. What the circumstances so solemnly adverted to by Mr. Pitt in this conversation were, the house was left for the present to conjecture. The menace thrown out by Mr. Rolle was well known to allude to some supposed connection between the Prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert, to whom he had for some time manifested a strong attachment. For, notwithstanding the possibility of a marriage between those two parties was effectually guarded against by the Royal Marriage Act, great pains had been taken, and not entirely without success, to mislead the ignorant, and to inflame the minds of the vulgar, upon that subject;—with what view it would have been more easy to conceive in former times than at present, when all the enemies of the House of Brunswick are supposed to have ceased from amongst the nation. On the 27th of the same month Mr. Newnham, in compliance with the request that had been made, sig
nified to the house that the motion he intended to make would be to the following effect: "That an humble address be presented to His Majesty, praying him to take into his Royal consideration the present embarrassed state of the affairs of the Prince of Wales, and to grant him such relief as his royal wisdom should think fit; and that the house would make good the same." Several members on both sides of the house having arisen to deprecate the further discussion of this business, and to express their earnest wishes, that it might be accomodated in some other manner,
Mr. Sheridan declared himself impressed with as high a sense of the magnitude and importance of this subject, as any person could possibly be; and considered it perhaps of greater consequence than any other that was ever agitated within these walls: he felt, in common with other members, an extreme degree of reluctance in discussing, as a question, what, if it came from another quarter, could admit of no controversy. But looking to the circumstances, and above all, the proceedings of his Royal Highness under every difficulty; and keeping in mind, at the same time, what was due to the dignity, the honour, and the gratitude of the whole British empire, he would not confine the interest of the question to the country members alone, respectable and highly revered as they ought to be ; but he should not hesitate to declare, that every individual of the state, and every member of parliament in particular, was deeply concerned in the subject of the motion. He differed much with those who represented, that alarming consequences of disunion might ensue from the issue of this motion, and that the existence of the church and state were endangered by its agitation. He did not well know what precise meaning to affix to expressions of this kind, but he was very well convinced that the motion which was now made, after every method had failed, originated only in a consciousness of the unparalleled difficulties under which the Heir of the Crown was so long suffered to labour. They very much mistook both the conduct and character of what were called the Opposition in this country,