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Reign of George II page 8

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It was the earl of Isla, Argyll's brother, nevertheless, who was sent down to discover the leaders of the riot, and to bring them to punishment. It was useless; the whole feeling of the country was with the punishers of Porteus. Isla, in reporting to Walpole, says, "The most shocking circumstance is, that it plainly appears the highflyers of our Scotch church have made this infamous murder a point of conscience. One of the actors went straight to a country church, where the sacrament was given to a vast crowd of people, as is the fashion here, and there boasted what he had done. All the lower rank of the people, who had distinguished themselves by pretences to a superior sanctity, talk of this murder as the hand of God doing justice, and my endeavours to punish murderers are called grievous persecutions. I have conversed with several of the parsons, and, indeed, I could hardly have given credit to the public reports of the temper of these saints if I had not been witness to it." Thus all attempts to discover any of the chief perpetrators failed, and no more than the general facts have ever come to light.

But the more the mystery, the greater was the rage of the English government. On the opening of the session of parliament for 1737 a bill was brought in of a most frantic and unwise character: - To abolish the charter of the city of Edinburgh, to rase the city gates, disband the city guard and declare Mr. Wilson, the provost, incapable of again holding any public office. Nothing so furious and unstates-manlike could ever have been imagined possible in the eighteenth century. Witnesses were called to the bar of both houses, and amongst them three Scotch judges in their robes were subjected to a sharp cross-questioning. Nothing, however, could be elicited except some degree of carelessness on the part of the city magistrates. The Scottish nation, with its usual spirit, highly resented the menaces of this impolitic bill. The duke of Argyll in the lords, and various members of the commons, as the lord advocate, the celebrated Duncan Forbes; Lindsay, the member for Edinburgh; lord Polwarth, the son of the earl of Marchmont, already greatly distinguished - denounced it as equally insulting and unjust, They were zealously supported by many English members, especially by Wyndham and Sir John Barnard, and the bill gradually shrank into an act disabling Mr. Provost Wilson from holding any office in future, and fining the city two thousand pounds for the benefit of the widow of captain Porteus; and, alluding to her original station, it was jocosely said, therefore, that all this terrible menace and debate ended in making the fortune of an old cookmaid.

There was still a clause retained in the bill which greatly annoyed the clergy of Scotland. It was one ordering the reading of a proclamation by the clergy once every month, calling on the people to exert themselves to bring the murderers of captain Porteus to justice. The clergy resented this order on two grounds. It seemed to desecrate their pulpits by making them the organs of a mere hue and cry; and, as the proclamation mentioned " the lords spiritual and temporal in parliament assembled," it appeared to give a sanction in them to episcopacy, which they still continued to regard as unchristian, and to denounce as such on all convenient occasions. The clause was a most impolitic one; it tended only to keep up the popular irritation on the subject, and gave so much offence generally, that government felt the effect of it sensibly in the next election in the Scotch I burghs.

On the 1st of February, 1737, parliament met, and its first debates were on these Scotch affairs; but on the 9th of March Walpole moved that a sum of one million should be taken from the sinking fund, and applied to relieve some of the old South Sea annuitants. Sir John Barnard proposed that the house should resolve itself into a committee, and take the national debt into serious consideration, in order to its reduction. As the sinking fund was now regularly seized upon for other purposes, Sir John moved that money should be borrowed at three per cent, with which to pay off annuities which were receiving higher interest. The debt, it appeared, at this time amounted to forty-seven millions, eight hundred and sixty-six thousand five hundred and ninety-six pounds. This was clearly a wise and legitimate mode of reducing the national annual payment of interest. The landed proprietors were in favour of the plan, which thus would materially diminish the expenditure, and Sir John Barnard's high moral as well as financial character lent weight to the scheme. But the monied interest opposed it. It lowered the profit of funded securities, and Sir Robert Walpole opposed it as strenuously; for whatever reduced the debt or the interest of it, reduced the motives of a large class for supporting government and its measures. He referred to the South Sea and India Companies, which had, in the disastrous period of 1720, when they had the power to demand the whole of their funds, refrained from doing so. He contended that we were saved from ruin by them, and he demanded whether it were grateful to reduce their dividends. This was a very specious argument, which Sir Robert never wanted; but when the country had gone on paying extra interest to these parties for seven years, the argument would have been totally disregarded by Sir Robert himself, had his political interest leaned another way. His arguments and exertions succeeded, and the plan was rejected.

The attention of the public was now again drawn to those unnatural feuds which disturbed the royal family. The exhibition of domestic discord and hatred in the house of Hanover had, from its first ascension of the throne, been most odious and revolting. George I. had the most monstrous jealousy of his son, and that son, now George H., was equally averse to his son, Frederick, the prince of Wales, who repaid the paternal hatred with the most unfilial opposition and disrespect. These disgraceful and unchristian contentions of this singular family, were aggravated for their own purposes by the adverse parties round the throne. The quarrels of the present father and son, like those of the present and late king, had begun in Hanover, and had been imported along with them only to assume greater malignance in foreign and richer soil. The prince of Wales, whilst still in Germany, had formed a strong attachment to the princess royal of Prussia, who afterwards became margravine of Bareith, and has left us in her memoirs some strange sketches of her different relatives. The Prussian family did not bear a more amiable character than that of Hanover. The king was of a most brutal temper, and had the same inveterate hatred of his son and successor as George of Hanover had. He treated him with the most savage severity, and wished to have him f beheaded. Nor did he confine his atrocious violence to his son; he beat and maltreated his daughter. What sort of a race the union of two such families might have produced it is really frightful to contemplate. But this was happily prevented by Frederick William of Prussia and George of England as cordially hating each other as they each hated their own sons. George it was who forbade the connection. But the prince of Wales, in that resistance to the paternal will which was innate in him, dispatched an agent of his, one La Motte, from Hanover, secretly to the queen of Prussia, to assure her that he was determined to marry her daughter, spite of his father, and that he should quickly arrive in Berlin in disguise for that purpose. The Prussian queen, in her delight at this news, defeated it by foolishly boasting of it to the English envoy at her court. The consequence was, that the prince was instantly summoned to England, where he duly arrived in 1728.

The prince found in the opposition in England the most unfortunate fosterers of his unfilial temper. Pulteney, Wyndham, Chesterfield, Carteret, Cobham, and, worst of all, Bolingbroke, became his associates, and the frequenters of his house. There he heard nothing but the most distorted description of his father's government and of his ministers. A more pernicious companion and mentor for a young prince than the brilliant but heartless and disappointed Bolingbroke, it is impossible to conceive. Whatever wit and malice could do to pervert a young mind, and to strengthen in self-will that which was already perverted, would be sure to be done by Bolingbroke, who had no Christian principle to restrain him, but an exhaustless supply of black and festering envy and hatred to urge him on. He and his beloved friend, the dean of St. Patrick, whose life was spent in attacking honest patriots, venting his poisonous spite on all that disliked or opposed him, and in torturing trusting women, were fatal counsellors for a young man already regarding with a jaundiced eye everything that related to his father. Bolingbroke could clothe his most devilish feelings under the most fair language, and, with the object of obliquely satirising George II., he wrote and introduced to the son his essay on a "Patriot King."

The prince of Wales, fast ripening into a pattern of unfilial popularity under such influences, possessing some accomplishments, and a desire to stand well with the people, was married in April, 1736, to Augusta of Saxe Gotha, a princess of so much beauty and good sense, as might have reclaimed many a nature, and seems to have at least won the heart of her husband from his former romantic passion. It was an ominous circumstance, however, that the address of congratulation on this occasion was moved, not by the king's own ministers, but by the king's own opposition. Pulteney was the mover, and it was supported by two young men who that evening made their first speeches, and in them burst suddenly forth with that splendour which was destined to grow transcendent through many years. They were Pitt, afterwards lord Chatham, and lord Lyttleton.

Scarcely was the prince married, when he began to complain of his limited income. His father, as prince of Wales, had been allowed one hundred thousand pounds from the civil list, which then was only seven hundred thousand pounds, but he now received only fifty thousand pounds from a civil list of eight hundred thousand pounds. The prince did not take into consideration that his father, on arriving in England, had already a large family to maintain, and that there could be no doubt that on his having a family the country would see that he had a suitable provision, if his father did not. At the same time, it must be allowed that George II. had, by all means, and some of them very paltry and truthless, augmented the civil list from seven hundred thousand pounds to eight hundred thousand pounds, and might with a good grace have allowed his heir the required one hundred thousand pounds, and thus taken away a very plausible plea from the opposition. But avarice was the besetting sin of George, and he allowed his son's discontents to be sounded all through the kingdom without making any movement towards silencing them in the most effectual manner, namely, by rendering them causeless. On the other hand, Bolingbroke and the opposition were only too happy to have such a subject of censure on the king; and they stimulated the prince to the most unbecoming defiance of his father. Bolingbroke, two years before, on leaving England, told the prince, as his parting advice, to apply to parliament, without any regard to the king, for a permanent income of one hundred thousand pounds a year. His best friends as earnestly dissuaded him from this conduct, and amongst others Bubb Doddington, a thorough time-serving courtier, who was professing to be the prince's friend whilst he was in league with Walpole and the king, was employed to prevail on him to remain quiet. Doddington, afterwards lord Melcombe, and a man who has already appeared in this history under his original name of Bubb, has left a very minute and amusing account in his u Diary "of his conversations with the prince, and of his employment at the same time by Walpole to bring over some of the opposition by bribes and promises. Through the whole, whilst Doddington was earnestly endeavouring to persuade the prince as his fast friend not to commit himself to any such impolitic course, he allows us to see that he was doing it at the instance and under the instructions of Walpole. The king was at this time very unwell, and many thought he would not live long, and Doddington urged upon the prince how ungenerous and unfilial it would appear to the nation to take such a step against his father at such a moment. He said that no one desired the downfall of the minister more than he did, but he thought this course would bind the king and ministers faster together than ever.

Doddington then sought his friend Sir Paul Methuen, and induced him to declare that he would neither vote for nor against the grant, and they together waited on the duke of Dorset and other lords, who declared that they would do their utmost to dissuade the prince from this matter. The result of this proceeding was, that the duke of Argyll, lord Scarborough, the duke of Dorset, lord Wilmington, Sir Thomas Frankland, and Sir Conyers Darcy, though the prince's friends, all declared that they could not vote for him.

All this appears very well as the proceeding of a friend who would fain prevent his prince running into a fatal dilemma; but the next moment we find this earnest and prudent friend in close conference with Walpole, who is offering through him to bribe and bring away as many of the opposition as he can get. "We understand one another," observed Walpole, at parting; and undoubtedly they did. Doddington was empowered to treat with others, and with no ambiguous assurance of his own advantage in it. Spite of Doddington's arguments, and spite of the conversions he made of some of the prince's usual partisans, the prince was resolute on proceeding. He declared that none would desert him who were not more afraid of their places and interests than they were sincerely attached to him; and he continually referred to the support which queen Anne, when princess of Denmark, had received under the same circumstances. Meantime, the great leaders of the opposition stood apparently firm to the prince - Pulteney, Wyndham, and Sir John Barnard, whose support of the prince gave a great moral momentum to his cause; for such was the character of Sir John for integrity, honour, and reasonableness, that it was thought he would not countenance anything that was really unjust.

Under these circumstances, Walpole persuaded the king to send a message to the prince, offering to settle a large jointure on the princess, and to make the prince's own income independent of his father. Here the prince ought to have yielded; if he had been either politic or well-disposed, he would have done so. The king was at this time much worse, and his physicians declared that if he did not alter soon, he could not live a twelvemonth. This circumstance of itself would have touched any young man of the least natural feeling, to say nothing of policy; for, if the king died, there was au end of the question - the prince would be king himself. But he was now in such a temper that he would not listen to the royal proposal; and the very next day, the 22nd of February, Pulteney made his motion in the house of commons for an address beseeching the king to settle upon the prince a hundred thousand pounds a year, and promising that the house would enable him effectually to do so. What was still stranger, it was seconded by Sir John Barnard.

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