« PreviousContinue »
Commentaries, through all this troubled sea of opposition, it is to Mr. Burke that the first daring outline of the plan , as well as the chief materials for filling it up, are to be attributed ,—whilst to Sir Arthur Pigot's able hand was entrusted the legal task of drawing the Bill. The intense interest which Burke took in the affairs of India had led him to lay in such stores of information on the subject, as naturally gave him the lead in all deliberations connected with it. His labours for the Select Committee, the Ninth Report of which is pregnant with his mighty mind , may be considered as the source and foundation of this Bill—while of the under-plot, which had in view the strengthening of the Whig interest, we find the germ in his “Thoughts on the present Discontents," where, in pointing out the advantage to England of being ruled by such a confederacy, he says, " in one of the most fortunate periods of our history, this country was governed by a connection; I mean the great connection of Whigs in the reign of Queen Anne."
Burke was, indeed, at this time the actuating spirit of the party -as he must have been of any party to which he attached himself. Keeping, as he did, the double engines of bis genius and his industry incessantly in play over the minds of his more indolent colleagues, with an intentness of purpose that nothing could divert, and an impetuosity of temper that nothing could resist, it is not wonderful that he should have gained such an entire mastery over their wills, or, that the party who obeyed him should so long have exhibited the mark of his rash spirit imprinted upon their measures. The yielding temper of Mr. Fox, together with his unbounded admiration of Burke led him easily in the first instance, to acquiesce in the views of his friend, and then the ardour of his own nature, and the self-kindling power of his eloquence, threw an earnestness and fire into his public enforcement of those views, which made even himself forget that they were but adopted from another, and impressed upon his hearers the conviction that they were all, and from the first, his own.
We read his speeches in defence of the India Bill with a sort of breathless anxiety, which no other political discourses, except those, perhaps, of Demosthenes, could produce. The importance of the stake which he risks—the boldness of his plan-- the gallantry with which he flings himself into the struggle, and the frankness of personal feeling that breathes throughout-all throw around him an interest , like that which encircles a hero of romance; nor could the most candid autobiography that ever was written exhibit the whole character of the man more transparently through it.
The death of this ill-fated Ministry was worthy of its birth. Originating in a Coalition of Whigs and Tories , which compromised
the principles of freedom, it was destroyed by a Coalition of King and People, which is even , perhaps, more dangerous to its practice'. The conduct, indeed, of all estates and parties , during this short interval, was any thing but laudable. The leaven of the unlucky alliance with Lord North was but too visible in many of the measures of the Ministry—in the jobbing terms of the loan, the resistance to Mr. Pitt's plan of retrenchment, and the diminished numbers on the side of Parliamentary Reform 2. On the other hand, Mr. Pitt and his party, in their eagerness for place, did not hesitate to avail themselves of the ambidexterous and unworthy trick of representing the India Bill to the people, as a Tory plan for the increase of Royal influence, and to the King, as a Whig conspiracy for the curtailment of it. The King , himself, in his arbitrary interference with the deliberations of the Lords, and the Lords, in the prompt servility with which so many of them obeyed his bidding, gave specimens of their respective branches of the Constitution, by no means creditable—while, finally, ple, by the unanimous outcry with which they rose, in defence of the monopoly of Leadenhall Street and the sovereign will of the Court, proved how little of the vox Dei” there may sometimes be in such clamour.
Mr. Sheridan seems to have spoken but once during the discussions on the India Bill, and that was on the third reading, when it was carried so triumphantly through the House of Commons. The report of his speech is introduced with the usual tantalising epithets, “ witty," "entertaining," etc. etc.; but, as usual, entails disappointment in the perusal—“ at cum intraveris, Dii Deæque , quam nihil in medio invenies! 3 " There is only one of the announced
“ This assumption ( says Burke) of the Tribunitian power by the Sovereign was truly alarming. When Angustus Cæsar modestly consented to become the Tribune of the people, Rome gave up into the hands of that prince the only remaining shield she had to protect her liberty. The Tribunitian power in this country, as in ancient Rome, was wisely kept distinct and separate from the executive power: in this government it was constitutionally lodged, where it was naturally to be lodged, in the House of Commons; and to that House the people ought first to carry their complaints, even when they were directed against the measures of the House itself : but now the people were taught to pass by the door of the House of Commons, and supplicate the throne for the protection of their liberties.”—Speech on moving his Representation to the King, in June, 1784.
· The consequences of this alloy were still more visible in Ireland. “The Coalition Ministry,” says Mr. Hardy, displayed itself in various employments--bat there was no harmony. The old courtiers hated the new, and being more dexterous, were more successful.” In stating that Lord Charlemont was but coldly received by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Northington, Mr. Hardy adds,
" It is to be presumed that some of the old Court, who, in consequence of the Coalition, had crept once more into favour, influenced his conduct in this particular."
pleasantries forth-coming, in any shape, through the speech. Mr. Scott (the present Lord Eldon) had , in the course of the debate, indulged in a licence of Scriptural parody, which he would himself, no doubt, be among the first to stigmatise as blasphemy in others, and had affected to discover the rudiments of the India Bill in a Chapter of the Book of Revelations ,- Babylon being the East India Company, Mr. Fox and his seven Commissioners the Beast with the seven heads, and the marks on the hand and forehead, imprinted by the Beast upon those around him, meaning, evidently, he said, the peerages , pensions, and places distributed by the minister. In answering this strange sally of forensic wit, Mr. Sheridan quoted other passages from the same Sacred Book , which (as the Reporter gravely assures us)“ told strongly for the Bill," and which proved that Lord Fitzwilliam and his fellow-commissioners, instead of being the seven heads of the Beast, were seven Angels clothed in pure and white linen!”
The Prince of Wales.-Financial Measures.---Mr. Pitt's East India Bill.
-Re-elected for Stafford.-Irish commercial Propositions.- Plan of the Duke of Richmond.—Sinking Fund.
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 upon it as any more than a temporary instrument of faction, is, to say the least of it, one of those selfdelusions 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 lo 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 lale 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 maintained 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,
* The following sensible remarks upon this first interruption of the political connection between the Heir Apparent and the Opposition, are froin an unfinished Life of Mr. Sheridan now in my possession-written by one whose boybood 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 attenipted, 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 dereliction 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.
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 0 each.
L. 1,302 0 0 Yearly Expenses since.
L. House-rent and taxes
23 6 6 Servant at 6s, per week, board wages. 15 12 Ditto, yearly wages.
8 8 Coals, etc.
57 6 6 Expenses for Election-continued. Brought forward.
L. 57 6 6 1,302 o o Ale tickets. Half the members' plate.
25 Swearing young burgesses. Subscription to the Infirmary.
5 5 Ditto clergymen's widows. Ringers.
86 i 0
145 17 6 Multiplied by years
863 5 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 themselyes 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