The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 6
But, spite of the Harpy which crawls on all four,
These verses fell into the duchess's hands, who hoarded them up, and made use of them in due time, to the calumniator's signal damage. But whilst Swift was thus scattering his filthy venom on the highest names at the command of his masters, the tory ministers, those ministers were anxious to muzzle all reply. The lords, having the addition of twelve span-new peers, made a zealous reply to this appeal, and the commons went still farther. They declared that they would do their utmost to punish the licentiousness of the press, which was so daring and impious that it neither spared God, religion, nor her majesty's government.
The high church party next proceeded to repeal such acts as restrained the exercise of that church in Scotland. An act was passed to prevent all interference with the exercise of the episcopal worship in that country; another to restore the rights of patronage to the noblemen and other landholders, which had been reserved to the church at the revolution and they repealed an act against all baptisms and marriages, performed by the episcopal church and other dissenters in Scotland. The general assembly protested against these alterations, declaring the establishment of presbyterianism was part and parcel of the deed of union, and that no parliaments whatever had any power to interfere with those particulars. But the British parliament paid no attention to this remonstrance, or to those made by the Scottish members. They went on to pass an other act for the discontinuing the courts of judicature during the Christmas holidays. Whilst these enactments certainly made very free with the articles of the union, they undoubtedly extended toleration, and, by a particular clause, deprived the kirk of its power of persecuting those who differed from it in a desirable manner.
On the 6th of January landed at Greenwich a very illustrious visitor to the court, but on a most unwelcome errand - namely, prince Eugene. The allies, justly alarmed at the ministerial revolution which had taken place in England, and at the obvious design of the tories to render abortive all the efforts of the whigs and the allies through the war, from mere party envy and malice, sent over Eugene to convince the queen and the government of the fatal consequences of such policy. That to discharge and disgrace Marlborough, and remove him from the army before the conditions of 1706 were obtained, would be most fatal to the interest and honour of the allies, of England not less than any. That to obtain proper terms from a man of Louis's subtle and serpentine character, it was necessary to press on all advantages in the field, and that Marlborough was the only man who could lead on the English army victoriously. The soldiers had confidence only under him; with him at their head they could do anything, without him they would lose their spirit, and the consequences might be ruinous. That if any reverse took place, Louis would instantly seize on it to raise his demands. That they had him now on his knees, and it was due to all parties to extort full satisfaction from him. He was to represent that England could not, without abandoning her honour, desert the allies at this crisis; that repeated treaties bound her solemnly to stand by them till their demands were righteously obtained; and that the emperor would take upon himself a larger proportion of the expense of the war, on condition that it was pushed to its legitimate result.
The fame which the prince had acquired in England, both by his distinguished military talents, and by the integrity and nobility of his character, made the allies hope much from his mission; but the very soundness of his moral qualities operated against his success. He was more of a warrior than a courtier. He was too noble to conceal his real sentiments, and to turn his back on his old friends merely because they happened to be out of favour with the court. There had always been a great friendship betwixt the prince and Marlborough; these two great generals had always done justice to each other's merits; there appeared no jealousies betwixt them, and when Eugene came to England, though Marlborough was dismissed from his command and disgraced, he still showed the same regard to him as ever, bore the same open testimony to his military genius and services, and visited at his house, and took the same delight in his company as if he were still in the full glow of royal favour. The people at large received the prince with enthusiastic acclamations, and ran impetuously to any place where they could get a sight of the great captain whose fame had filled so long the gazettes. Both whigs and tories were equally zealous in outward marks of respect towards him; but the attentions of the tories were hollow, or only exerted to win him over to their views. The queen received him graciously, but court etiquette was wofully annoyed at his appearing in the royal presence in a tye-wig when full- bottomed wigs were all the fashion. Eugene did not conceal his contempt for this petty etiquette. He satirically said that he had sent to all his valets and footmen to see if they could lend him a periwig, never having had one in his life, but that none of them had such a thing. The queen smiled on him and complimented him, though inly dreadfully chagrined at his breach of court custom; and the courtiers, instead of feeling the respect which was due to so great and honourable a man, were laughing at him behind his back, and quizzing his person and dress. Swift records - in a style worthy of his heartless and malicious temper - that he had seen prince Eugene at court, and that he was "plaguy yellow, and literally ugly besides." If the souls of those two men could have been seen in their true aspect instead of their outsides, what a frightful contrast there would have been betwixt the unassuming but great and generous Savoyard, and the spiteful and cantankerous hanger-on of Harley and St. John.
Harley paid, however, obsequious court to the prince as long as he hoped to win him over. He gave a magnificent dinner in his honour, and declared that he looked on that day as the happiest of his life, since he had the honour to see in his house the greatest captain of the age. The prince, who felt that this was a mean blow at Marlborough, replied with a polite but cutting sarcasm, which must have sunk deep in the bosom of the lord treasurer, "My lord, if I am the greatest captain of the age, I owe it to your lordship." That was to say, because he had deprived the really greatest captain of his command. The queen, on her part, though she was compelled to treat him graciously, and to order the preparation of costly gifts to him as the representative of the allies, regarded him as a most unwelcome guest, and in her private circle took no pains to conceal it. The whole tory party soon found that he was not a man to be seduced from his integrity, or brought to acquiesce in a course of policy which he felt and knew to be most disgraceful and disastrous to the peace of Europe; and being fully convinced of this, they let loose on the illustrious stranger all the filth and virulence of the press, that press which they themselves pretended to be so desirous of restraining and purifying. The vilest ballads were printed and hawked and sung about the streets, most scandalous to the memory of the prince's mother, Olympia Mancini, niece of cardinal Mazarin, who probably was no better than the ladies of her time, but whose faults, whatever they were, none but the most brutal of populaces would have endeavoured to cast in the face of this great son, then visiting the nation as the representative of the emperor, and the advocate of measures essential to the nation's real honour. So far from any means being taken to suppress these villanous attacks by the ministry their party strongly countenanced the most absurd rumours, that he was in the most formidable conspiracies against the peace of the country and the queen. That, say the Coxe MSS. in the British Museum, he gave "his advice to the duke of Marlborough to suborn bands of ruffians called Mohawks, to scour the streets by night and strike terror into the population." These Mohawks were bands of young men, many of them of good families, but of dissipated and degraded character, who issued into the streets and committed all sorts of riots and brutalities on even women and children, on helpless and infirm men, whom they met with in the badly-lighted city. " These evil doers," says Cunningham, "were never seen in the daylight; nay, many persons averred that they were never seen at all." They created such terror that people began to imagine them demons; as in truth they were, only incarnate.
Well, the tories did not hesitate to attribute to Eugene, and to Marlborough, at his instigation, a design by these miscreants, u to strike terror into the populace, by whom the queen was beloved; to set fire to London in different places, especially the palace of St. James's, where the queen then lodged, where the guards on duty were commanded by an officer in the whig interest; that Marlborough, at the head of the guards, should seize the Tower, the bank, the public offices, make the queen prisoner, and by terror force her to sign warrants for inquiry into the Jacobite correspondence of Abigail Masham, Harley, and Bolingbroke, put them to death, and force her to dissolve parliament. There is," adds Coxe, "no evidence of the truth of these intentions but the letter of Plunket, the Jacobite." There needed none to demonstrate that the whole was one of the basest and most inhospitable attempts to destroy the character of one of the noblest characters in history, of a man who had rendered the most distinguished services to all Europe, and whose private and public character were alike far above the taint of the subtlest calumny. The attempt upon that character displays the low and detestable grade to which had sunk the whole tory clique of that day, and leaves an additional stain on the names of Harley, St. John, Swift, and the rest of their party, and its tools. Bishop Burnet, who saw much of the prince, bears the same high testimony to his worth as do the continental historians. He says that he was of a most unaffected modesty, and scarcely could bear the acknowledgments which the world paid him; that he descended to an easy equality with those with whom he conversed, and seemed to assume nothing to himself whilst he reasoned with others; that when he (the bishop) talked with him of the scandalous libels that were every day published against the duke of Marlborough, in which they did not even allow him personal bravery, but allowed that he had once been fortunate, the prince replied that that was the highest commendation that could be bestowed upon him, as it implied that all his other successes were owing to his courage and conduct. If anything had been needed to show that the prince had no concern with the Mohawks, as was asserted, this was furnished by the melancholy fact that his own nephew was set upon by them, and was so savagely handled by them that he soon after died. The visit of prince Eugene to this country is one of the most disgraceful and humiliating incidents in our history. Seeing that his mission was utterly useless, he took his departure on the 13th of March, the queen having presented to him on her birthday a sword worth four thousand pounds.
Whilst prince Eugene had been labouring in vain to recall the English government from its fatal determination to make a disgraceful peace, the Dutch envoy, Van Buys, had been equally active, and with as little success. The ministers incited the house of commons to pass some severe censures on the Dutch. They alleged that the States-General had not furnished their stipulated number of troops both for the campaigns in the Netherlands and in Spain; that the queen had paid above three m lions of crowns more than her contingent. They attacked the Barrier Treaty, concluded by lord Townshend with them in 1709, and declared that it contained several articles destructive to the trade and interests of Great Britain; that lord Townshend was not authorised to make that treaty, and that both he and all those who advised it were enemies to the queen and kingdom. They addressed a memorial to the queen, averring that England, during the war, had been overcharged nineteen millions sterling - which was an awful charge of mismanagement or fraud on the part of the whig ministers. They further asserted that the Dutch had made great acquisitions; had extended their trade as well as their dominion, whilst England had only suffered loss. The queen gave her sanction to this address by telling the house that she regarded their address as an additional proof of their affection for her person and their attention to the interests of the nation; and she ordered her ambassador at the Hague, the new earl of Strafford, to inform the States of these complaints of her parliament, and to assure them that they must increase their forces in Flanders, or she must decrease hers.
This naturally roused the States, who made a very different statement; contending that, by the treaties, every ally was bound to do all in its power to bring the common enemy to terms; that England, being more powerful than Holland, ought, of course, to bear a larger share of the burden of the war; yet that the forces of Holland had been in the Netherlands often upwards of a hundred thousand, whilst those of England had not amounted to seventy thousand; that this had prevented the Dutch sending more soldiers to Spain; and that, whilst England had been at peace in her own territory, they (the Dutch) had suffered severely in the struggle. To this a sharp answer was drawn up by St. John, and dispatched on the 8th of March, of which the real gist was, that, according to the Dutch, England could never give too much, or the United Provinces too little. Nothing could exceed the bitterness of tone which existed betwixt England and the allies, with whom it had so long manfully contended against encroaching France; for the whole world felt how unworthily the English generally were acting under the tory ministry, and this did not tend to forward the negotiations, which had been going on at Utrecht since the 29th of January. To this conference had been appointed as the British plenipotentiaries, the new earl of Strafford - whom Swift, a great partisan of the tory ministry, pronounces a poor creature - and Robinson, bishop of Bristol, lord privy seal. This prelate opened the conference with a solemn declaration, which was as false as it was professedly- religious: - "We bring," he said, "sincere intentions and positive orders from our principals to concur in everything on their parts which may tend to the furtherance and happy conclusion of so beneficial and Christian-like a work." Now, this bishop knew very well that his principals had already agreed to certain conditions of peace, as we have stated, which were utterly at variance with the wishes of the rest of the allies, but which the English government was determined to adhere to, or to make a peace without them. On the part of France appeared the marshal D'Uxelles, the abbe de Polignac, and Mesnager, who had lately been in England settling the preliminaries. On the part of the Dutch were Buys and Vanderdussen; and, besides these, the emperor, the? duke of Savoy, and the lesser German princes had their representatives.
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