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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 15


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A shower of rain came on as the electress and her ladies were in the garden, and, whilst walking briskly to avoid it, she fell and instantly expired. Sophia, the electress, was a very accomplished as well as amiable woman. She was. perfect mistress of the German, Dutch, French, English, and Italian languages; and, notwithstanding the endeavours of the Jacobite party in England to render her ridiculous, had always maintained an elevated and honourable character. She was more of an Englishwoman than a German, and, had she lived a few weeks longer, would have had - according to her often avowed wish - " ere lies Sophia, Queen of England," engraven on her coffin. The journey of the prince was wholly abandoned; not that the inclination of the prince for the journey was abated, nor that the whigs ceased to urge it. Townshend, Sunderland, Halifax, and others pressed it as of the last importance; and both the elector and his son wrote to the queen, assuring her that, had the prince been allowed to come, he would soon have convinced her majesty of his desire to increase the peace and strength of her reign rather than to diminish them.

Instead of lord Paget, after all, being sent to Hanover, the queen sent over her kinsman, the earl of Clarendon - as weak a personage as his grandfather, the chancellor, had been an able one. He had already been governor of Pennsylvania, and had shown himself so absurd there as that, because he represented the queen, he thought it necessary to receive the council dressed in female apparel. The business of this imbecile was solely to prevent the prince's coming over; and, as it was evident that this journey could not be accomplished, the elector sent baron Bothmar from the Hague to London, the better to watch the progress of events.

The two rival ministers of England became every day more embittered against each other; and Bolingbroke became more daring in his advances towards the pretender, and towards measures only befitting a Stuart's reign. In order to please the high church, whilst he was taking the surest measures to ruin it by introducing a popish prince, he consulted with the high church Atterbury, and they agreed to bring in a bill which should prevent the dissenters educating their own children. This measure was sure to please the Hanoverian tories, who were as averse to the dissenfers as the whigs. Thus it would conciliate them and obtain their support at the very moment that the chief authors of it were planning the ruin of their party. This bill was called the Schism Bill, and enjoined that no person in Great Britain should keep any school, or act as tutor, who had not first subscribed the declaration to conform to the church of England, and obtained a license of the diocesan; and, upon failure of so doing, the party might be committed to prison without bail; and that no such license should be granted before the party produced a certificate of his having received the sacrament according to the communion of the church of England within the last year, and also subscribed the oaths of allegiance and supremacy.

This act, as disgraceful as any which ever dishonoured the statute-book in the reigns of the Tudors or Stuarts, was introduced into the commons, on the 12th of May, by Sir William Wyndham, and was resolutely opposed by the whigs, amongst whom Sir Peter King, Sir Joseph Jekyll, Mr. Hampden, Robert Walpole, and general Stanhope distinguished themselves. Stanhope showed in particular the ill consequences of this law, as it would, of course, occasion foreign education, which, on the one hand, would drain the kingdom of great sums of money, and, which was still worse, would fill the tender minds of young men with prejudices against their own country. He illustrated and strengthened his argument by the example of the English popish seminaries abroad, which, he said, were so pernicious to Great Britain, that, instead of making new laws to encourage foreign education, he could wish those in force against papists were mitigated, and that they should be allowed a certain number of schools.

Strikingly just as were these observations, we can well imagine that, in that bigoted time, they would rather injure the cause which the general was advocating than forward it; at all events they did not convince the majority, which amounted to no less than two hundred and thirty-seven to one hundred and twenty-six. In the lords, Bolingbroke himself moved the second reading, and it was ably opposed by the lords Cowper, Wharton, Halifax, Townshend, Nottingham, and others. Lord Wharton observed that it was somewhat strange that they should call schism in England what was the established religion in Scotland; and, therefore, he added, "If the lords who represent the nobility of that part of Great Britain are for the bill, I hope that, in order to be even with us and consistent with themselves, they will move for the bringing in another bill to prevent the growth of schism in their own country." This was a keen blow to the Scotch lords, but did not prevent them voting with government for a measure which, if extended to Scotland, would have soon made the church of England the religion of the country. Lord Wharton then made as sharp a thrust at the bench of bishops. Turning towards them, he said - u Precedents and authorities have been cited in favour of the present measure, but there is against it an authority of the highest weight, which has not been yet mentioned. I acknowledge that it would have come with more force and propriety from that venerable bench, but, since their lordships have been wholly silent in this debate, I will myself tell them that it is the rule of the gospel to do unto others as we would be done unto."

Lord Halifax drew an animated contrast betwixt the humane and enlightened policy of queen Elizabeth, who protected the protestant Walloons when flying from the persecutions of the Spanish inquisition, and of William III. towards the French Huguenots, and pointed out the benefits to our trade and manufactures which resulted from that noble conduct; at the same time he warned them solemnly against following the fatal example of Charles I. and Laud, which brought destruction on them both, and misery on the nation. Lord Townshend advocated toleration from his observation abroad. He said he had lived a long time in Holland, had observed that the wealth and strength of that great and powerful commonwealth lay in the number of its inhabitants; that he was convinced that, if the States- General should cause the schools of any one sect to be shut up, the United Provinces would soon be as thin of people as Sweden or Spain. Lord Cowper treated the bill as a gross breach of the act of toleration, as it was. He asserted that there were dissenters in many country towns who supported the schools, and that to forbid them to teach or be taught by any but churchmen amounted to the suppression of the reading of the Bible amongst them. Lord Nottingham, who had been grossly lampooned by Swift, especially in his ballad, "An Orator dismal of Nottinghamshire," and who apprehended that that truculent churchman might yet get a bishopric through Bolingbroke, said, with much feeling - "My lords, I have many children, and I know not whether God Almighty will vouchsafe to let me live to give them the education I could wish they had; therefore, my lords, I own I tremble when I think that a certain divine, who is suspected of being hardly a Christian, is in a fair way of being a bishop, and may one day give licences to those who should be entrusted with the education of youth."

Robinson, bishop of London, declared that the church was in danger from schismatics and dissenters, who drew away the children of churchmen to their schools and academies, thus paying the dissenters an undesigned compliment for their superior talents or industry in teaching. But the greatest curiosity was displayed regarding the part which Oxford would take, as it was known that in the council he had endeavoured to soften the rigorous clauses; but in the house he followed his usual shuffling habit, declaring that he had not yet considered the question; and, having induced the opposition to let the second reading pass without a division, he absented himself from the final voting, and thus disgusted both parties and hastened his own fall.

In committee the opposition endeavoured to introduce some modifying clause. They proposed that the dissenters should have schools for their own persuasion; and, had the real object of the bill been to prevent them endangering the church by educating the children of churchmen, this would have amply served the purpose. But this was not the real object; the motive of the bill was the old tyrannic spirit of the church, and this most reasonable clause was rejected. They allowed, however, dames or school-mistresses to teach the children to read; and they removed the conviction of offenders from the justices of peace to the courts of law, and granted a right of appeal to a higher court. Finally, they exempted tutors in noblemen's families, noblemen being supposed incapable of countenancing any other than teachers of court principles. Stanhope seized on this to extend the privilege to the members of the house of commons, arguing that, as many members of the commons were connected with noble families, they must have an equal claim for the education of their children in sound principles. This was an exquisite bit of satire, but it was unavailing. The Hanoverian tories, headed by lord Anglesea, moved that the act should extend to Ireland, where, as the native population was almost wholly catholic, and therefore schismatic in the eye of the established church, the bill would have almost entirely extinguished education. The bill was carried on the 10th of June by a majority only of seventy-seven against seventy- two, and would not have been carried at all except for the late creation of tory peers.

The Jacobites were greatly elated by the passing of this infamous bill, especially as it was the work of their ally, Bolingbroke. They talked very boastfully, and they proceeded to a most audacious insolence of action; they commenced recruiting for the pretender. Two Irish officers, bearing passes from the earl of Middleton, were arrested, one at Gravesend and another at Deal, engaged in this impudent work - a circumstance which created a great alarm, as showing that the pretender now calculated confidently on the favour of the queen. These men, Hugh and Kelly, it was asserted, had been endeavouring to enlist men in the city, under the very eye of parliament and the queen. The Hanoverian tories now again joined the whigs, and their demands compelled the government to issue a proclamation offering a reward of five thousand pounds for the apprehension of the pretender should he attempt to land anywhere in Great Britain. Wharton proposed that the words "alive or dead" should be inserted in the proclamation, but the queen rejected them with horror. The house of lords passed a resolution increasing the reward to one hundred thousand pounds. It was made high treason, too, to enlist or be enlisted for the pretender. Bolingbroke, however, assured Iberville, a French agent, that u it would make no difference;" and that the queen regarded the whole as a mere placebo to the public was evinced by her immediately afterwards receiving the earl of Mar, a most determined Jacobite, at court on his marriage with lady Francis Pierrepoint, sister of the celebrated lady Mary Wortley Montague, and soon after making this man one of her ministers of state, who, in the very next year, headed the Jacobite rebellion.

The queen closed the session on the 9th of July, assuring the parliament that her chief concern was for the preservation of our holy religion and the liberty of the subject - this liberty having been most grievously invaded by her through the Schism Bill. But the dissolution of her ministry was also fast approaching. The hostility of Oxford and Bolingbroke was becoming intolerable, and paralysed all the proceedings of government. Swift, in writing to lord Peterborough at this crisis, says - " I never led a life so thoroughly uneasy as I do at present. We have never continued above four days to the same view, or four minutes with any manner of concert. Our situation is so bad that our enemies could Hot, without abundance of conviction and ability, have placed us so ill if we had left it entirely to their management." He adds - " The queen is pretty well at present; but the least disorder she has puts us all in alarm, and when it is over we act as if she were immortal. Neither is it possible to persuade people to make any preparation against an evil day."

In such a state of things the condition of the ministers themselves must, of course, be miserable; and it is some satisfaction to hear a man like Bolingbroke - a man without religion and without any principle but ambition, who, with talents capable of saving, was only employing them to ruin his country, by bringing in all that it had cost the revolution to cast out - complaining thus to Swift: - "If my grooms did not live a happier life than I have done this great while, I am sure they would quit my service." As for Oxford, he felt himself going, and had not the boldness and resolution to do what would ruin his rival. He coquetted with the whigs, Cowper, Halifax, and others; he wrote to Marlborough, and did all but throw himself into the arms of the opposition. Had he had the spirit to do that he might have been saved; but it was not in his nature. He might then have uncovered to the day the whole monstrous treason of Bolingbroke; but he had himself so far and so often, though never heartily or boldly, tampered with treason, that he dreaded Bolingbroke's retaliation. - Bothmar, the Hanoverian envoy, saw clearly that Oxford was lost. He wrote- home that there were numbers who would have assisted him to bring down his rival, but that he could not be assisted, because, according to the English maxim, he did not choose to assist himself. Swift endeavoured, but in vain, to reconcile his two jarring friends; and Oxford finally utterly lost himself by offending the great favourite, lady Masham. He had been imprudent enough to oppose her wishes, and refuse her some matter of interest. He now was treated by her with such marked indignity, that Dr. Arbuthnot declared that he would no more have suffered what he had done than he would have sold himself to the galleys. Still, with his singular insensibility to insult, he used to dine at the same table with her frequently, and also in company with Bolingbroke, too. There, in presence of his rival, watching for the moment of his fall, she would huff him and taunt him; and at length, on the 14th of July, she broke out upon him, saying, "You never did the queen any service, and you are incapable of doing her any." Oxford replied, "I have been abused by lies and misrepresentations; but I will leave some people as low as I found them." Yet he went to sup with her at her house the same evening! There the quarrel must have been renewed, for it is related that the altercation did not cease till two o'clock in the morning. But the lord treasurer, instead of leaving the favourite low, now found himself left low. Anne demanded his resignation* The dragon, as Arbuthnot styled him, held the white staff with a deadly gripe; but, on the 27th of July, he was compelled to relinquish it, and that afternoon her majesty stated to the council her reasons for dismissing him. His confidant and creature, Erasmus Lewis, himself thus records them: - u The queen has told all the lords the reasons of her parting with him, viz., that he neglected all business; that he was seldom to be understood; that when he did explain himself she could not depend upon the truth of what he said; that he never came to her at the time she appointed; that he often came drunk; lastly, to crown all, that he behaved himself towards her with bad manners, indecency, and disrespect."

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