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Reign of George I page 25

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The struggle for ascendancy proceeding, Walpole and his party secured the interest of the duchess of Kendal, who always took care to side with that which she thought the strongest. Carteret and his party, on the other hand, secured the interest of the other mistress, the countess of Darlington, and her sister, Madame de Platen. Whilst affairs were in this position, the two secretaries of state, Townshend and Carteret, accompanied the king to Hanover. There came upon the tapis the question of a marriage betwixt the count St. Florentin, the son of La Vrilliere, the secretary of state for France, and a daughter of Madame Platen. Madame Platen, however, demanded that La Vrilliere should be made a duke, so that in due course of time her daughter would be a duchess. George I. warmly seconded this demand; and, had Bolingbroke used his influence, there was little doubt that it would have been accomplished. But the French nobility raised a huge outcry against this honour being conferred on the family of La Vrilliere, which they deemed too obscure for such a dignity. Bolingbroke, however, was seeking his own objects through the other mistress, the duchess of Kendal; and, notwithstanding the repulse which he had received from Walpole, he still calculated that his power would prevail, and he therefore smothered his personal vexation, and remained on the side of the duchess of Kendal and Walpole, leaving Carteret and his allies, the Platens, to fight their own battle.

In the midst of these cabals died the regent, and Townshend, acting with Walpole, sent over Walpole's brother Horace to watch their interests at Paris. Carteret, on the other hand, ordered Sir Luke Schaub to make every exertion for the grant of the dukedom. On the arrival of Horace Walpole, Bolingbroke, obeying the impulses of the courtier and not of the man, immediately waited on him, and placed all his influence at the French court at his service; but Walpole, who had an invincible repugnance to Bolingbroke, whilst he availed himself of the advantages offered by Bolingbroke, still kept him at a great and stately distance. Undeterred by this conduct, Bolingbroke, however, swallowed his mortification, and continued to keep his eye and his hope on the Walpole ministry. Unassisted by Bolingbroke, the dukedom could not be obtained, but George reconciled Madame Platen to the match by giving her daughter a portion of ten thousand pounds. Horace Walpole, at the same time, succeeded in getting Schaub recalled, and himself installed in his office of ambassador at Paris - a decided victory over Carteret; indeed, so decided, that Carteret was removed from the secretaryship to the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland. His post of secretary was transferred to the duke of Newcastle, and Townshend and Walpole remained in undisputed ascendancy.

The domestic serenity of the realm was, however, greatly disturbed at this moment by dean Swift, who seized on an occasion at once to avenge himself on the whig ministry for the defeat and punishment of his party, and especially of his great friends and patrons, Oxford and Bolingbroke. Swift, deprived of all hopes of a mitre, had for ten years been living in what, to his ambitious mind, appeared a state of exile and obscurity, in the deanery of St. Patrick, at Dublin. He hated Ireland and the Irish, and all the more so because, though born of English parents, he had the accident to be born in that country, and was, accordingly, claimed by the Irish as a countryman. Always overflowing with spleen, and reckless on whom he poured it out, he had long been in a state of superlative acerbity, from the forced banishment in which he regarded himself as living in an odious country. The opportunity which now presented of relieving himself of his pent-up bile, would not have been perceived except by a man of quick fancy and unprincipled temper. It was simply this:

There had long been a great deficiency of copper coin in Ireland. Probably this coinage had never been fully restored since James II. exhausted it in payment of his forces, and endeavoured to supply its place by halfpence minted from old pans and kettles. The deficiency was so great that manufacturers and shopkeepers were compelled to pay their workmen and give change to their customers in bits of cardboard bearing their seal and signature. The government undertook to remove this pressing want of so useful a medium, and they set about it in an honest and honourable manner as it regarded the quality of the coin. Tenders were issued, and various offers received for the coining of far things and halfpence to the value of a hundred and eight thousand pounds. The proposal of Mr. William Wood, an iron and copper founder, of Wolverhampton, was accepted; but the quality of the coin, both as to weight and fineness, was determined by the advice of Sir Isaac Newton, then master of the Mint, and Wood was bound under heavy penalties to furnish it according to this stipulation. Every means were used by the ministers and the solicitor and attorney-general to insure the supply of a much better copper coinage than Ireland had ever possessed before.

There were some circumstances, however, which came out that created considerable suspicion and displeasure in Ireland. Wood had given a bribe to the king's mistress, the duchess of Kendal, to procure him the contract, and the government had ordered the coinage without paying the Irish privy council and lord-lieutenant the compliment of consulting them on this occasion. Swift saw these errors, and seized on them for his own purposes. He did not stop to inquire whether, after all, the proposed coinage would not, under any circumstances, be much better than the present distressing scarcity pf copper money, and whether the farthings and halfpence might not turn out as good, though they were contracted for. It was enough for him that there was a cause of discontent which he could fan into a flame against the English government. He threw all his spiteful soul into it. The public mind was inflamed by the industrious circulation of representations that the English were going to enrich a stranger at the expense of the whole of Ireland, and that a universal robbery was about to be committed on the nation by means of a base and worthless coin. The irritation grew; the Irish parliament met full of resentment, and both houses passed addresses to the king, declaring that Wood had not kept to the terms of the patent; that even if he had, the loss to the country by the coinage would be a hundred and fifty per cent.! that now it would be still more monstrous. The lord lieutenant, the duke of Grafton, was a man wholly incompetent to direct such a crisis; " a fair-weather pilot," as Walpole called him, "who knew not what he had to do when first the storm arose;" and the lord chancellor, Allan Broderick, viscount Middleton, was an enemy both to Grafton and Walpole, and secretly fomented, by his son, his secretary, and other connections and dependents, the discontent. Walpole received the addresses to present to the king, and he did not hesitate to declare that the assertion, that the copper coinage would cause a loss to the nation of a hundred and fifty per cent., was equally monstrous and untrue. He showed that it was an excellent coin, and of a due value.

Still, by Walpole's advice, a mild answer was returned by the king to the addresses. It declared the king's concern at the idea entertained by his Irish subjects of the inferior character of the coinage; and that, to ascertain whether it really deserved the suspicion, a strict inquiry should be instituted. Accordingly, a committee of the privy council was appointed to make a strict scrutiny into the matter, and Sir Isaac Newton was ordered to assay the new coin with all care. He returned for answer as the result of his assay, that the coins in goodness and fineness, so far from falling short, even exceeded the conditions of the contract; that although, on account of the difference of exchange betwixt the two countries, it was necessary to make the Irish halfpence rather less in weight, yet that this difference was more than made up in-fineness, which was superior to that of the English.

This report would have been enough to allay all irritation, but it did not in the least deter Swift. He continued his onslaught on the coin, the patentee, and the English government with only the greater virulence and audacity; he attacked Wood and his halfpence in poetry and prose; he launched forth ballads and lampoons of the most popular and at the same time unscrupulous character; he represented Ireland as about to be plundered and ruined by a system of the most impudent robbery: -

The halfpence are coming, the nation's undoing,
There's an end of your ploughing, and baking, and brewing,
In that you must all go to rack and to ruin!

On an ignorant and most excitable people, the effect of this style of address was amazing, and he followed it up by a series of letters called "The Drapier's Letters." This draper represented himself as a poor but independent-spirited man- who did not mean to be ruined without a good, hearty outcry; "a poor, ignorant shopkeeper, utterly unskilled in law." In language admirably adapted to such a character, he uttered the most reckless falsehoods, quite sure that his hot-blooded readers would never give themselves the trouble to inquire into the truth of his allegations. He told them that the patent was iniquitous} that wicked as its conditions were, they had been still more wickedly violated by the patentee, whom he degraded from an iron-founder into a hardware-man and tinker; his copper was brass, himself was a wood-louse. No terms were too violent or too scurrilous for his use. "If," said he, "Mr. Wood's project should take place, it would ruin even our beggars. Do you think I will sell you a yard of tenpenny stuff for twenty of Mr. Wood's halfpence? no, not under two hundred, at least. Neither will I be at the trouble of counting, but weigh them in the lump."

When the government published the result of the examination at the Mint, he boldly treated it as a farce. When it declared that no one should be compelled to take this money unless he liked, that the government's object was not compulsion but accommodation, he more than insinuated that this was all pretence, that government and its officers would find means of compelling its acceptance in payment. Government, to remove the clamour, reduced the amount to be issued from a hundred and eight thousand pounds to forty thousand pounds, and proposed that no more than fivepence-halfpenny should be a legal tender at one payment. No matter; the unscrupulous dean raised an alarm lest the king should agree to take his Irish taxes in this copper so as to bring it into circulation. Now the taxes amounted to four hundred thousand pounds, and only forty thousand pounds worth of copper was to be minted; so that the folly of such a suggestion as forty thousand pounds paying ten times that amount was too palpable to escape any but the most frantic factionists. It escaped the Irish, and they raved against this design as if it had been the most possible thing in the world.

Swift was very soon known to be the author of "The Drapier's Letters," and was hailed as the public deliverer, In the letters he had called on the public to issue a declaration binding themselves not to take Wood's money; and many persons of station and property did so, and called on their tenants also to refuse it. The new lord lieutenant, Carteret, landed amid this tempest. The fury and tumult were indescribable. All parties, catholics and protestants, whigs, tories, Orangemen, and rapparees, were equally frantic. The merchants to whom the coin had been assigned would not receive it, and publicly announced that they had nothing to do with it. The shopkeepers refused it; the very hawkers and link-boys rejected it, declaring that such wretched stuff would neither procure them news, ale, tobacco, nor brandy. Wood's effigy was dragged through the streets of Dublin, and then burned.

Carteret offered a reward of three hundred pounds for the discovery of the author of " The Drapier's Letters; " but Swift impudently presented himself at Carteret's levee, though the viceroy could have no manner of doubt that he was the author, and demanded of Carteret the meaning of the poor printer of these letters, Harding, being arrested in default of the discovery of the author. He declared that the poor man had only printed a few papers designed for the good of his country. As Carteret had no legal proof of Swift's authorship, he could not charge him with it. He therefore eluded the query by a quotation from Virgil, and Swift returned in triumph, having thus bearded the king's representative in his audacity, as well as thrown the nation into a riot, causing it to refuse one of the most real advantages, and hailing the originator of the mischief as the most noble-minded of patriots.

The upshot was, that the government was compelled to withdraw the copper coinage, leaving the deluded country at its wit's end for a common circulating medium. Wood was to a trifling degree indemnified, by a pension of three thousand pounds for twelve years, for his enormous loss, and Swift, to whom the whole affair had only been a scheme for winning popularity at the expense of the poor patentee and the government, was raised to the summit of unbounded favour. To the day of his death he continued to be regarded as the saviour of Ireland, though he on his part continued to treat the country and the people with unabated contempt and insult. His portrait was engraved, placed on signs, woven on handkerchiefs, and struck on medals. Wherever he appeared he was followed by crowds of hurrahing admirers, whom he must have only laughed at for their folly. His health was quaffed at every banquet, and even his worst sneers at Ireland were taken in good part. The delusion, it is said, has not even yet died out of that country c but its various parties agreeing in nothing else, continue to unite in admiration of the halfpenny patriotism of Swift.

The tumult in Ireland was succeeded by one in Scotland The people of that country, though they were, by the provisions of the act of union, to bear their proportion of the malt tax, had always rejected compliance, and in 1713 had issued a violent resolution against it. They had never yet complied with the law, and Walpole, seeing the sturdy nature of the opposition, was willing to give up the point quietly. But during the parliamentary session of this year, Mr. Broderick proposed that a duty of sixpence on every barrel of ale should be paid in lieu of it. Walpole was reluctant to go into the question, but the house was bent on it, and he therefore complied so far as to consent to a duty of threepence per barrel, or half the amount. Walpole is said to have been in the habit of allowing the Scotch members six guineas weekly during the sitting of parliament for the payment of their expenses; but when they now waited upon him for their douceur, he told them they must use their influence with their constituents for the payment of this beer duty, or they must in future "tie up their stockings with their own garters."

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