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Reign of George I page 24

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The year 1723 was introduced by the labours of the secret committee busy in sifting the evidences of the plot, and on the 1st of March the report of the commons, drawn up by Pulteney, the chairman of the committee, was introduced and read. Besides making the treason of Atterbury sufficiently clear, a number of other peers had been named in the depositions - the lords Scarsdale, Strafford, Craven, Gower, Bathurst, Bingley, and Cowper. These, and especially Cowper, indignantly repelled the insinuation of disloyalty. Cowper professed his unbounded astonishment at such an aspersion on him, who on so many occasions had given such undoubted proofs of his attachment to the protestant succession. Yet it must be borne in mind that lord Cowper had for some time been acting strongly in opposition to the whig government, and lord Mahon states that he found, amongst the Stuart papers, letters of solicitation addressed to him both by lord Mar and the pretender himself, whilst no replies to these letters promptly and positively declining any adhesion to their views, have been found. It is probable that Cowper, able and clear-headed man aa he was, had allowed himself in the hour of his discontent to be tampered with by the enemy, though he might not even have most distantly dreamed of becoming their partisan. Whatever was the state of the case, it ceased, so far as he was concerned, to be of consequence, for he died on the 10th of October. Undoubtedly Cowper was a great lawyer and able statesman, though there would appear something hard in his nature. He was a man eloquent and accomplished rather than of noble and refined feeling; yet amongst the corruption of the times, he stood an object of high distinction and respect for his services.

Layer, the Templar, was convicted, executed at Tyburn, and his head fixed on Temple Bar. Plunket and Kelly were proceeded against by a bill of pains and penalties, and condemned to imprisonment at pleasure, and confiscation of their property. A bill was also brought into the commons by Mr. Younge, afterwards Sir William, to banish Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, without confiscation, and to make it felony to correspond with him without the king's license, adding also that the king should not have power to pardon him without consent of parliament. The bishop, who was well skilled in all parliamentary forms, on receiving this bill, wrote immediately to the speaker of the house, requesting permission to have the assistance of Sir Constantine Phipps and Mr. Wynne as his counsel, and Mr. Morice as his solicitor, and that they might have free access to him in prison. This being granted, he then applied to the lords, stating that as, by a standing order of the house of January 20th, 1673, no lord might appear by counsel before the commons, he was at a loss how to act, and humbly requested their advice. The lords at once gave him permission to be heard in the commons either by counsel, or in any other manner as best suited him. These ready compliances probably defeated the creation of a grievance, which the cunning bishop was endeavouring to establish; for on the very day on which he was expected to make his defence, he informed the commons that he had concluded to give them no trouble, but to confine his defence to the house of which he had the honour of being a member.

The bill, therefore, passed the commons as a matter of course, without a division, and on the 6th of May the bishop was called to the bar of the lords. The evidence against him was gone through, and that in his defence was then produced. Amongst these was Pope, the poet, who, more accustomed to express himself in his study, cut as poor a figure in the witness-box as he made a bold and assailant one in his own chair. He could only stammer out a few words, and these most remarkable for their blunders. The sum of his evidence was to give Atterbury a good character, describing him as so pleasant and amiable a man in social hours, that he could not conceive him as a political plotter; all of which amounted just to nothing, for the most truculent revolutionists have often been very agreeable fellows in society.

Erasmus Lewis, an old associate and correspondent of Swift and Harley, came forward to prove from his official experience how easily handwriting may be counterfeited, and how delusive such evidence might prove. Still more important than the defence set up by Lewis was that of three witnesses, who appeared to neutralise the depositions of Neynoe taken before his escape and death. One of these, a Mr. Skeene, swore that, having asked Neynoe whether there was in reality a plot, he had replied, "Yes, there were two: one of Mr. Walpole against some great men, and another of his own, which was only to get some eighteen or twenty thousand pounds out of Walpole.'' Though these witnesses were far from respectable, one of them having been convicted, whipped, and pilloried at Dublin for a treasonable pamphlet, yet Walpole himself deemed it necessary to come forward and contradict them. Atterbury seized on this opportunity to perplex and confound the minister by cross-questioning him; but he did not succeed. Walpole stood the encounter with cool firmness and cleverness of reply. "It was," says Onslow, "a greater trial of wits than scarce ever happened between such combatants - the one fighting for his reputation, the other for his acquittal."

Whatever was the private consciousness of Walpole on the occasion, that of Atterbury could be none of the most assuring. He stood there as a dignitary of the church, who had sworn allegiance to the monarch under whom he lived, and yet had undoubtedly been for many years a most industrious plotter against him. He had lived in long and habitual disregard of his own oath, and in endeavours to bring in a family as hostile to the church itself as to the reigning dynasty. Iiis defence, which he made on the 11th of May, was laboured and eloquent, but the worst of it was that it was one string of falsities. He pretended that the treason attributed to him was perfectly out of the question; that it was unnatural and absurd, because he could have no motive to commit it. "What could tempt me," he asked, "thus to step out of my way? Was it ambition, and a desire of climbing into a higher station in the church?... Was money my aim?" He went on to show that one was impossible, the other he despised. "Was it any dislike of the established church?" This, too, he answered in the negative. But whilst he paraded the causes which did not move him, he passed over the real ones which did. That he had done all that was charged on him he very well knew, and the house was perfectly satisfied of this in the evidence, and, therefore, the bill was passed by eighty-three votes against forty-three, and it received the royal assent on the 27th of the month.

Atterbury, who could scarcely expect to escape, received the announcement of his condemnation with apparent composure. His friends were admitted to see him before his departure, and he took an affectionate leave of them. To Pope he presented a Bible, who professed to believe that by euch a gift he might have cause to remember the bishop of Rochester in the next world as well as this. The next day, the 18th of June, Atterbury was put on board a man-of- war, and conducted to Calais. As he landed there, he was told that Bolingbroke had received the king's pardon, and was just quitting Calais for England; and the bishop said, with a smile, "Then I am exchanged." If there had wanted any proof of Atterbury's complicity with the pretender, he immediately gave it by throwing himself zealously into his service, and acting as his confidential agent, first at Brussels, and afterwards at Paris; still, however, representing to the public at homo that he was living in poverty, bearing his wrongs with resignation, and finding consolation in the sacred pleasures of religion and philosophy.

The pardon of Bolingbroke now granted had been long solicited and under negotiation. Having thrown up the service of the pretender in disgust, it was not in the nature of this proud and restless man to remain long in inaction. He soon began to renew his attempts to recover his standing in England. He made the most solemn professions of attachment to the new dynasty, of repentance of his fully in supporting the claims of the worthless and ungrateful pretender. He declared that he would serve George, the Hanoverian dynasty, and his country, with zeal and affection; that he would never do anything by halves, and would never betray a secret or a friend. Lord Stair was at length instructed to treat with him, and Bolingbroke then wrote a private letter to Sir William Wyndham, exposing the weakness of the pretender's cause, the little chance of his ever succeeding, and advising him to turn his thoughts elsewhere. This letter he sent unsealed to the postmaster- general, to be laid before the government, and forwarded or not to Sir William, as they thought proper. This was a scheme which was very characteristic of the selfish policy of Bolingbroke, who in serving himself endangered others. The stratagem, however, succeeded. The letter was duly forwarded by the government to Sir William; and, as lord Stair represented that there was no man capable of doing so much injury to the Jacobite cause, the ministers listened to his entreaties. But Bolingbroke did not trust to mere earnest and straightforward applications. He had made a large sum of money in the Mississippi speculations, and he took the more effectual means of bribing the duchess of Kendal, the king's mistress. The animosity of the whig party was a serious bar to his return. Walpole, in 1719, had, in speaking of Oxford, said, "His rival in guilt and power even now presumes to expect an act of the legislature to indemnify him, and qualify his villany." Before his gold in the palm of the German mistress, however, all this virtuous sentiment evaporated, and now Walpole himself consented to his return, and his pardon passed the great seal in May of this year.

This act, however, merely gave him the right to come back and live in security in England. Bolingbroke's ambition could only be satisfied by the restoration of his estates and honours, and the German mistress was again well bribed. Unfortunately for him, when he arrived in England, the king had sailed for Hanover, attended by Townshend and Carteret, and his great patroness, the duchess of Kendal. Bolingbroke wrote letters of thanks to the king, the duchess, and Townshend. He set himself to work, meantime, to obtain an accession of his tory friends, if possible, to the ministerial party. Lord Harcourt had already veered round of himself, and with such success, that he had lately been created a viscount and appointed one of the lords justices at the king's departure. He had been, therefore, able to promote Bolingbroke's pardon, and it has been, represented as an act of gratitude in Bolingbroke to endeavour to bring him still more into ministerial favour. The truth is that Bolingbroke was labouring with all his might for his own purpose, the restoration of his rank and estates, and the more of his friends that were in the ministerial party the better for that end. He waited, therefore, on Walpole; and not only endeavoured to raise Harcourt in his good opinion, but represented that Wyndham, who was at the head of the tory party in the house of commons, the lords Bathurst and Gower, were now beginning to be disgusted with the opposition, and might, by a little kind and judicious management, be brought to heartily support the measures of Walpole and Townshend. Many things, however, had to be weighed before such advances could be made. Walpole had to consider whether they would become real friends or concealed enemies still, and whether, by receiving them into favour, through the services of Bolingbroke, he might not give too much handle to the presumption of that ambitious man. Walpole knew that Bolingbroke was seeking to regain the whole of his lost advantages; and he probably knew, too, that it was not the intention of the court readily to concede them. He therefore received the proposals of Bolingbroke with coldness, and represented to him that as his restoration depended on a whig parliament, he ought to be careful how he renewed his intimacy with tories, and that the king's ministers could not hazard the royal affairs by proposing this restoration rashly. Walpole has been blamed for his rejecting an accession of strength from a junction with the tories, but it is more than doubtful whether such accession at this period would have been strength, especially as it implied the return to active political life of the aspiring and unprincipled Bolingbroke.

Disappointed in the result of this attempt, and the king prolonging his sojourn on the continent by a visit to his son-in-law, the king of Prussia, Bolingbroke returned to the continent, and went to Aix-la-Chapelle, whence he wrote soliciting permission to proceed to Hanover. This request was declined, thus showing that Walpole had acted in perfect concert with the court. Mortified at this repulse, Bolingbroke returned to Paris, where a field of action had opened in which he was well calculated to figure.

The restless Englishman, much more like a Frenchman in temperament and character than a native of England, had married Madame de Villette, a niece of Louis XIV.'s last mistress, Madame de Maintenon, a lady rich and well trained in all the court life of Paris. By this means Bolingbroke was brought into close connection with that court. The notorious cardinal Dubois had died in August, and in less than four months died also the duke of Orleans, the regent. Louis XV. being nominally of age, no other regent was appointed, but the duke of Bourbon, a man of much better character but of less ability than the regent Orleans, was prime minister. He was greatly under the influence of his bold and ambitious mistress, Madame de Prie, and Bolingbroke, who was high in favour of both minister and mistress, flattered himself that, with the aid of his courtier wife, he could govern both them and France.

Bolingbroke was well aware that a violent strife for power was going on in the English cabinet. Lord Carteret, the new secretary of state, and afterwards earl Granville, was labouring hard to undermine both Walpole and Townshend. He was a very accomplished man and a great linguist, familiar with nearly all the continental languages, including German, which, strangely enough, the English courtiers neglected, though they had a German monarch on the throne who could not speak English. German then was regarded as a language rude and even vulgar; a tongue, as Voltaire afterwards said, only fit for horses. But Carteret, by being master of it, could converse freely with the king, whilst Walpole, ignorant, too, of French, could only hold communication with him in Latin, which, from the Wide difference betwixt the English and foreign pronunciation of it, could not have been a very favourable medium. Carteret had ingratiated himself so much with the king by conversing in German, and flattering George's German tastes and politics, that he had succeeded to the influence which Stanhope had formerly possessed. He had also secured the same influence in the court of Paris. He had, by that means, confirmed the appointment of Sir Luke Schaub at that court, and thus kept open the most favourable communication with the abbé Dubois. The courts of England and France continued during Dubois' life in close connection, and through the influence of George and his ministers, Dubois obtained first the archbishop's mitre, and then the cardinal's hat.

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