« PreviousContinue »
THE Whigs, who had now every reason to be convinced of the aversion with which they were regarded at court, had lately been, in some degree, compensated for this misfortune by the accession to their party of the Heir Apparent, who had, since the year 1783, been in the enjoyment of a separate establishment, and taken his seat in the House of Peers as Duke of Cornwall. That a young prince, fond of pleasure and impatient of restraint, should have thrown himself into the arms of those who were most likely to be indulgent to his errors, is nothing surprising, either in politics or ethics. But that mature and enlightened statesmen, with the lessons of all history before their eyes, should have been equally ready to embrace such a rash alliance, or should count it as any more than the a temporary instrument of faction, is, to say least of it, one of those self-delusions of the wise, which show how vainly the voice of the Past may
speak amid the loud appeals and temptations of the Present. The last Prince of Wales, it is true, by whom the popular cause was espoused, had left the lesson imperfect, by dying before he came to the throne. But this deficiency has since been amply made up; and future Whigs, who may be placed in similar circumstances, will have, at least, one historical warning before their eyes, which ought to be enough to satisfy the most unreflecting and credulous.
In some points, the breach that now took place between the Prince and the King, bore a close resemblance to that which had disturbed the preceding reign. In both cases, the Royal parents were harsh and obstinate-in both cases, money was the chief source of dissension-and in both cases, the genius, wit, and accomplishments of those with whom the Heir Apparent connected himself, threw a splendour round the political bond between them, which prevented even themselves from perceiving its looseness and fragility.
In the late question of Mr. Fox's India Bill, the Prince of Wales had voted with his political friends in the first division. But, upon finding afterwards that the King was hostile to the measure, his Royal Highness took the prudent step (and with Mr. Fox's full concurrence) of absenting himself entirely from the second discussion, when the Bill, as it is known, was finally defeated. This circumstance, occurring thus early in their
intercourse, might have proved to each of the parties in this ill-sorted alliance, how difficult it was for them to remain long and creditably united.* On the one side, there was a character to be main
* The following sensible remarks upon this first interruption of the political connection between the Heir Apparent and the Opposition, are from an unfinished Life of Mr. Sheridan now in my possession-written by one whose boyhood was passed in the society of the great men whom he undertook to commemorate, and whose station and talents would have given to such a work an authenticity and value, that would have rendered the humble memorial, which I have attempted, unnecessary :
"His Royal Highness acted upon this occasion by Mr. Fox's advice, and with perfect propriety. At the same time the necessity under which he found himself of so acting, may serve as a general warning to Princes of the Blood in this country, to abstain from connecting themselves with party, and engaging either as active supporters or opponents of the administration of the day. The ties of family, the obligations of their situation, the feelings of the public, assuredly will condemn them, at some time or other, as in the present instance, to desert their own public acts, to fail in their private professions, and to leave their friends at the very moment in which service and support are the most imperiously required.
"Princes are always suspected proselytes to the popular side. Conscious of this suspicion, they strive to do it away by exaggerated professions, and by bringing to the party which they espouse more violent opinions and more unmeasured language than any which they find. These mighty promises they soon find it unreasonable, impossible, inconvenient to fulfil. Their dercliction of their principles becomes manifest and indefensible, in proportion to the vehemence with which they have pledged themselves always to maintain them; and the contempt and indignation which accompanies their retreat is equivalent to the expectations excited by the boldness and determination of their advance."
tained with the people, which a too complacent toleration of the errors of royalty might,-and, as it happened, did compromise; while, on the other side, there were the obligations of filial duty, which, as in this instance of the India Bill, made desertion decorous, at a time when co-operation would have been most friendly and desirable. There was also the perpetual consciousness of being destined to a higher station, in which, while duty would perhaps demand an independence of all party whatever, convenience would certainly dictate a release from the restraints of Whiggism.
It was most fortunate for Mr. Sheridan, on the rout of his party that ensued, to find himself safe in his seat for Stafford once more, and the following document, connected with his election, is sufficiently curious, in more respects than one, to be laid before the reader :
R. B. Sheridan, Esq. Expenses at the Borough of Stafford for Election, Anno 1784.
248 Burgesses, paid L. 5 5 o each
Yearly Expenses since.
L. 1,302 0 0
Total expense of six years' parliament, exclusive of expense incurred during the time of election, and your own annual expenses
L. 2,165 5 0
The followers of the Coalition had been defeated in almost all directions, and it was computed that no less than 160 of them had been left upon the field,-with no other consolation than what their own wit afforded them, in the title which they bestowed upon themselves of "Fox's Martyrs."
This reduction in the ranks of his enemies, at the very commencement of his career, left an open space for the youthful minister, which was most favourable to the free display of his energies. He had, indeed, been indebted, throughout the whole struggle, full as much to a lucky concurrence of circumstances as to his talents and name for the supremacy to which he so rapidly rose. All the other eminent persons of the day had either deeply entangled themselves in party ties,