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Reign of George II. (Concluded) page 6


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It was high time that some measures were taken for preventing clandestine marriages. Nothing could be so loose as the marriage laws, or so scandalous as the practice regarding marriages to this time. No previous public notice or publication of banns was hitherto required, nor was any license requisite. Any clergyman, though of the most infamous character, could perform the ceremony at any time or place, without consent of parents or guardians. The consequence was, that the strangest and most scandalous unions took place, for which there was no remedy, and the result of which were lives of misery and disgrace. The merest children were inveigled into such connections, and the heirs of noble estates were thus entrapped into the most repulsive alliances, and made the victims of the most rapacious and unprincipled of mankind. The Fleet prison, where were many ruined parsons - ruined by their crimes and low habits - was a grand mart for these marriages. There these abandoned men, stupefied with beer and tobacco, were on the look-out for any simple or enamoured juveniles, and, without any questions, would marry them in three minutes for a couple of shillings, or less. Pennant, in his "Account of London," says, "In walking along the street in my youth on the side next to this prison, I have often been tempted by this question, 'Sir, will you please to walk in and be married?' Along this most lawless space was hung up the frequent sign of a male and female hand conjoined, with 'Marriages performed within!' written beneath. A dirty fellow invited you in. The parson was seen walking before his shop, a squalid, profligate figure, clad in a tattered plaid nightgown, with a fiery face, and ready to couple you for a dram of gin or roll of tobacco." A fellow of the name of Keith had acquired great pre-eminence in this line. He used to marry, on an average, six thousand couples every year; and on the news of this bill, which would stop his trade, he vowed vengeance on the bishops, declaring that he would buy a piece of ground and out-bury them all!

The bill was prepared by the judges, and afterwards remödelled and conducted through the lords by lord chancellor Hardwicke. It provided that banns should be published for every marriage in the parish church for three successive Sundays; that no license to waive these banns should be granted to any minor without consent of the parent or guardian; and that special licenses, empowering the marriage to be celebrated at any time or place, should only be granted by the archbishop, and for a heavy sum. The bill was strongly opposed in the lords by the duke of Bedford, and in the commons by Mr. Fox, Mr. Nugent, Mr. Charles Townshend, and others. It was declared to be a scheme for keeping together the wealth of the country in the hands of a few grasping and ambitious families. Townshend denounced it as intended to shut younger sons out of all chance of raising themselves by marriage. Fox had benefited especially by the looseness of the old marriage law, for he had run away with lady Caroline Lennox, the eldest daughter of the duke of Richmond. He was especially severe on lord Hardwicke, accusing him of seeking by the bill to throw more power into the hands of the lord chancellor, and Hardwicke retorted with still greater acrimony. The bill passed, and there was a strong inclination to extend its operation to Scotland, but the Scotch lawyers and representative peers defeated this attempt, and thus left Gretna Green open to our own day. In the next session the duke of Bedford brought in a bill to postpone the operation of the marriage bill till it could be reconsidered and amended, but his bill was rejected by fifty-six votes to ten.

Amongst the other measures of this session, a bill introduced by Mr. Potter, son of the archbishop of Canterbury, for establishing a general registry of the population, was rejected, on the plea that a census of the people was dangerous to the liberties of free-born Englishmen! Another measure of great importance was more successful, namely, a bill to prevent the plunder of wrecked vessels, and the cruelties to the unfortunately-wrecked seamen, which had grown to such a monstrous height on our shores, and especially on those of Cornwall.

Another measure in this session marks an epoch in the history of literature and science in this country. Parliament empowered the crown to raise money by lottery for the purchase of the fine library, consisting of fifty thousand volumes, and the collection of articles of vertu and antiquity, amounting to sixty-nine thousand, three hundred and fifty- two in number, bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane to the nation, on the condition that twenty thousand pounds should be paid to his daughters for what had cost himself fifty thousand pounds. The same bill also empowered government to purchase of the Duchess of Portland, for ten thousand pounds, the collection of MSS. and books, &c., made by her grandfather, Harley, the lord treasurer Oxford, and also for the purchase of Montagu House, which was offered for sale in consequence of the death of the duke of Montagu without heirs, in which to deposit these valuable collections. The antiquarian and literary collection of Sir Robert Cotton, purchased in the reign of queen Anne, was also removed to Montagu House; and thus was founded the now magnificent institution, the British Museum. It is remarkable that whilst Horace Walpole, professing himself a great patron of letters, has recorded all the gossip of his times, he has not deemed this great literary, scientific, and artistic event worthy of the slightest mention.

This session, thus remarkable for some very important acts, was terminated as remarkably when it was closed by his majesty on the 7th of June. Scarcely had he quitted the throne when a female quaker in the house commenced a sermon on the vanities of dress, which was complacently listened to for full half an hour. This same day, however, was disgraced by a very different exhibition at Tyburn. There another victim of the rebellion of 1746 was offered up to the unrelenting vengeance of the Hanoverian dynasty - Dr. Archibald Cameron, the brother of Lochiel, who had escaped to France, and had remained there till now, when he was tempted to come over to recover a sum of money that prince Charles had left behind in Moidart at the time of his embarkation there. Cameron had been one of those who assisted Charles to escape, and had lived with him, his brother Lochiel, and Macpherson of Cluny in the "Cage," on the mountain Benalder. A rumour had been propagated that he had been sent over by the king of Prussia and the young pretender to agitate for a fresh rebellion, but nothing to support this idea was discovered, and it would have been far more honourable to the government to have taken no notice of him than to have put him to death at this late period, when there was not the slightest chance of any fresh insurrection. But he had been included in the act of attainder, and excepted from the amnesty, and he was ordered for execution without any fresh proceedings. The king is said to have remarked, when the death-warrant was presented for his signature, that he thought too much blood had been spilt already on that account; but a truly humane monarch, thinking so, would not have signed it. Great public sympathy was excited for the fate of this amiable and learned man, whose bloody death excited as much disgust against the perpetrators of it as a pardon would have won them honour.

Parliament met again on the 7th of February, 1754, and, as this was the seventh and last session, the conduct of ministers had a special reference to the coming election. Sir John Barnard moved the abolition of the bribery oath, saying that experience had proved it did not prevent bribery, but only superadded perjury; but it was answered that to take it away would appear to grant free permission to bribery; it was therefore allowed to remain on the statute book, and remains there to the present day, as a decent protest against corruption, but exerting no influence whatever upon it.

The course of business was suddenly interrupted by the unexpected death of Pelham, the prime minister. Pelham was but sixty years of age, of a florid and apparently healthy appearance, but at once indolent and too fond of the table - two qualities that, if they exist together, generally shorten the existence of him in whom they meet. He had been compelled to seek sea-bathing at Scarborough, and on the 7th of January wrote to his brother, the duke of Newcastle, saying that he never was better; but on the 3rd of March he was taken ill, and on the 6th was a corpse. The king was startled at his death, for his moderation and quiet management had long held together very jarring elements in the ministry. "Now I shall have no more peace," exclaimed George, on hearing the news of his decease, and he was only too correct in his prognostic. Pelham was a respectable rather than a great minister. His abilities were by no means shining, but experience had made him a good man of business. Waldegrave gave him credit for being "a frugal steward of the public, averse to continental extravagances and useless subsidies;" and yet never were more of either perpetrated than during his administration. He had the merit, which he had acquired in the school of Walpole, of preferring peace to war; and Horace Walpole admits that "he lived without abusing his power, and died poor."

Newcastle, a man older than his brother Pelham, and of vastly inferior abilities, instead of strengthening himself by the promotion of Pitt and Fox, was only anxious to grasp all the power of the cabinet, and continue these far abler men as his obedient subordinates. He at once got himself placed at the head of the treasury, and selected as chancellor of the exchequer Henry Legge, a son of the earl of Dartmouth, a quiet but ordinary man of business, by no means fitted to take the leadership of the house of commons. The three men calculated for that post were Pitt, Fox, and Murray; but Pitt was still extremely disliked by the king, who did not forget his many years' thunderings against Hanoverian measures, and both George and Newcastle were no little afraid of his towering ambition. Fox was a man of amiable character in private life, but in politics an adventurer. According to lord Chesterfield, "having not the least notion or regard for the public good or the constitution, but despised these cares as the objects of narrow minds." Like his celebrated descendants, Charles James Fox and lord Holland, he might be called a whig, but with all a whig's ease of political conscience and regard to his own personal advancement. In business, however, he was straightforward, manly, and decisive, looking still to his own interests, having a young and ill-provided family. He was no orator, but spoke in a poor, hesitating manner, and yet with occasional flashes of wit, close reasoning, and much aptness of reply. His person was heavy, his countenance dark and lowering, so much so, that Pitt once taunted him with "hanging his head as if he had murdered somebody under a hedge." With all his defects, however, the commons were looking to him as their leader, and the proper successor of Pelham.

Murray, afterwards lord Mansfield, as we have said, of a decided Jacobite house, was a rising young lawyer, who had won great fame for his speech in a case of appeal before the house of lords, was now solicitor-general - accomplished and learned in the law, a man of pleasing person, and a fine orator, bold, persevering in his profession, yet with all the wary caution of the Scotchman, plodding his way towards the bench - the real and almost only object of his ambition. Murray, indeed, let Newcastle know that such was his ambition; and therefore, as Pitt was passed over from the royal dislike and Newcastle's own jealousy, and Murray for this reason, Fox alone was the man for the leadership of the commons. Newcastle wrote to him, telling him that he proposed him for that post; but when they met, Fox soon found that he was expected to play the rola without the essential power. Fox, of course, demanded to be informed of the disposal of the secret-service money, but Newcastle replied that his brother never disclosed that to any one, nor would he. Fox reminded him that Pelham was at once first lord of the treasury and leader of the commons, and asked how he was to "talk to members, when he did not know who was in pay and who was not?" And next he wished to know, who was to have the nomination to places? Newcastle replied, Himself. Who was to recommend the proper objects? - Still himself. Who to fill up the ministerial boroughs at the coming elections? - Still Newcastle himself. Fox withdrew in disgust, and Newcastle gave the seals of the secretaryship to a mere tool - Sir Thomas Robinson, a dull, uncouth man, who had been some years ambassador at Vienna, and had won the favour of the king by his compliance with all his German desires. Robinson, says lord Waldegrave, was ignorant even of the language of the house of commons, and, when he attempted to play the orator, threw the members into fits of merriment. Newcastle, says lord Stanhope, had succeeded in a very difficult attempt - he had found a secretary of state with abilities inferior to his own.

As to the other changes in the ministry, Sir Dudley Ryder being advanced to the bench, Murray succeeded him as attorney-general. Lord chancellor Hardwicke was made an earl; Sir George Lyttleton and George Grenville, friends of Pitt, had places - one as treasurer of the navy, the other as cofferer. Pitt himself, who was suffering from his great enemy, the gout, at Bath, was passed over. Both Hardwicke and Newcastle, however, wrote to him letters intended to soothe him, but not very likely to do so. Pitt, indeed, disguised his chagrin under an affectation of retiring from public life - the very last thing which a man of his ambition and restless mind would really think of. Even through his professed resignation we see the real gist of that reproach which he meant to convey. "It is very kind of you," he says to lord Hardwicke, "very generous, to suggest a ray of distant, general hope to a man you see despairing, and to turn his view forward from the present scene to a future; but, my lord, having set out under suggestions of this general hope ten years ago, and bearing a load of obloquy for supporting the king's measures, and never obtaining in recompense the smallest remission of that displeasure I vainly laboured to soften, all ardour for public business is really extinguished in my mind, and I am totally deprived of all considerations by which alone I could have been, of any use. The weight of immovable royal displeasure is a load too great to move under; it must crush any man; it has sunk and broken me. I succumb, and wish for nothing but a decent and innocent retreat, wherein I may no longer, by continuing in the public stream of promotion, for ever stick fast aground, and afford to the world the ridiculous spectacle of being passed by every boat that navigates the same river. To speak without a figure, I presume upon your lordship's great goodness to me to tell my utmost wish: it is that a retreat, not void of advantage, or derogatory to the rank of the office I hold, might, as soon as practicable, be opened to me."

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Pictures for Reign of George II. (Concluded) page 6

Attack on Bergen-op-Zoom
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Arrest of the young pretender in Paris
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Death of the Prince of Wales
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Horace Walpole
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Fleet Marriages
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View of the river Ohio
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Death of Braddock
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Plymouth
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Frederick the Great of Prussia
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Execution of Admiral Byng
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General Wolfe
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View of the city of Quebec
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