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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 7


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Pitt had not forgotten the difficulty started by Burke, as to the recognition of the return to entire sanity of the king, and he now met it, by proposing that when five out of the eight counsellors appointed to assist the queen should declare the king's health restored, they should notify this to the political servants of the regent, and announce it in the London Gazette, as well as communicate it to the lord mayor; that the king should then summon nine of his privy council, who, sitting in council with him, should be able to observe whether he were perfectly restored or not; and if six of the nine agreed that he was so, these six should sign a proclamation to that effect, on which the regency should cease and determine. Great opposition to, and various amendments on this motion were made, but without effect: it was carried. On the 12th of April the regency bill finally passed the commons, and was carried up to the lords, with the addition of a clause limiting the restriction on the making of peers to three years.

Reports that the king was rapidly recovering now began to fly about court, daily gaining strength. The whigs, impatient to seize on office, were in a state of strange excitement; but to go in with the prospect of being immediately dismissed by the king, did not accord with the dignity of the leaders. On the other hand, there were so many good things to be given away - one or two bishoprics, the office of chief-justice in eyre, sundry commissions of major-general, beside expectations of promotions to the rank of field-marshal, as made the dependents of the party highly impatient. Neither the whigs nor Pitt knew well what to do. The lords did not commit the bill till the 17th, when they made two important additions to it, namely, to place all the palaces, parks, houses, gardens, &c., of the king, under the control of the queen, and to give her the care of all the royal children under the age of twenty-one. But, at that very crisis, the king was pronounced convalescent. On the 19th, lord Thurlow announced this, on the certificate of the physicians; and it was declared by him that their lordships could not, under these circumstances, proceed with the bill, but had better adjourn till Tuesday next. The duke of York observed that he should most gladly have corroborated the statement of the lord chancellor, but could not, having called the day before at Kew, to desire that he might see his father, but had not been permitted. The house, however, adjourned, and on Tuesday, the 24th, Thurlow informed the house that he had seen his majesty, had found him perfectly recovered, and therefore moved another adjournment to the Monday following, which was agreed to.

On the very next day took place what Burke had foreseen. A deputation from the two Irish houses of parliament arrived in London, with an address to his royal highness the Prince of Wales, requesting him to assume the regency as his right Though the English bill was now certain to be abandoned, this address was presented on the 26th of February, the day after the arrival, and was received by the prince in a manner likely to mark his sense of his treatment by Pitt and his party. The deputies were entertained at a splendid banquet; the walls of the dining- room at Carlton-house were adorned with Irish harps, the shamrock, and other Irish emblems the arms of Ireland, encircled by a glory, blazed in the centre of the table, and the richest wines flowed in torrents. Burke and Sheridan, both Irishmen, as chief amongst the prince's friends, shone conspicuously. But people did not fail to observe that it was a day of double rejoicing to the prince, for that morning a bulletin of the royal physicians had been posted at St. James's, announcing the king's perfect recovery. But these banquetings had not been confined to this more auspicious day. Whilst the great contest had been going on in parliament, dinners had been given on the Saturdays and Sundays of every week at Carlton House, to which about thirty of the members of both houses had been invited, and at which the prince and the duke of York had presided. Besides these, the attractions and persuasive powers of the great ladies on both sides had been enthusiastically called into play. The fascinating duchess of Devonshire, who, in 1784, had so successfully canvassed for Charles James Fox in Westminster, had now thrown open her house, and employed all her amiabilities to win supporters to the prince's party. On the other hand, the more bold and vigorous duchess of Gordon, had feasted, entreated, and almost commanded adherence to Pitt, through whom it was said her husband had obtained the great seal of Scotland, and his brother, lord William Gordon, the sinecure rangerships of St. Jameses and Hyde-parks. The rivalries of these parties had been carried on in the most public manner, by caricatures, lampoons, ballads, and popular jests. Westminster was pre-eminently whig; but London, which had formerly been so democratic, had become essentially loyal. The coalition had given the first shock to the popularity of the whigs in the city, and the sympathy for the calamity of the king had produced a wonderful loyalty there.

Both houses adjourned, by successive motions, to the 10th of March; they then met, and were informed by the lord chancellor that, by the blessing of Providence, his majesty being recovered from his severe indisposition, and able to attend to the public affairs of his kingdom, had issued a commission authorising the holding and continuing of parliament; and, the commission having been read, the chancellor declared himself commanded to convey to them his majesty's warmest acknowledgments for the additional proofs they had given of their attachment to his person. He also informed them that he had concluded a treaty of defensive alliance with the king of Prussia. Addresses were then moved, as at the commencement of a session, by both houses, and also addresses of congratulation to her majesty the queen; and the same evening the capital was illuminated, and the most sincere joy was evidenced in the happy event of the royal convalescence. The next day the Spanish and Prussian ambassadors had a private audience of the king. On the 8th of April Pitt informed the house that his majesty had appointed Thursday, the 23rd of that month, as a day of public thanksgiving for his recovery, and that it was his majesty's intention to go in procession to St. Paul's church on that day to return thanks to Almighty God. The house voted thanks for his majesty's having taken measures for their accommodation on the occasion, and passed a resolution to attend.

On the appointed day the two houses of parliament, the officers of state, the judges, all in their robes of state, the queen, and princes and princesses, attended the king on this solemn occasion. The streets were crowded with the inhabitants; the lord bishop of London and the dean and canons of St. Paul's received him at the door. His entrance was announced by the sound of martial music from military bands on the outside, and the roar of the organs and the voices of five thousand children of the city charity schools inside singing the hundredth psalm. On walking across the area, under the great dome, the king was greatly affected, and observed to the bishop of London and the dean of St. Paul's, " I now feel that I have been ill." After the singing of the Te Deum, and the firing of the Tower and Park guns, the procession returned to St. James's as it had come.

Having thus brought the circumstances attending the king's illness to a close, we must return to the business of parliament, which, from the time of reading the commission, had begun to resume its more ordinary course.

On the 3rd of January the death of Mr. Cornwall, the speaker, was announced to the house of commons; and on the 5th, the whigs, by Mr. Welbore Ellis, put forward Sir Gilbert Elliot as their candidate for the chair; but Pitt's relative, William Wyndbam Grenville, afterwards lord Grenville, was elected by a large majority. On the 18th of March two hundred and eighteen thousand pounds were granted for the extraordinaries of the ordnance. This unusual amount was occasioned by a plan for erecting fresh fortifications in our West Indian Islands. General Burgoyne and others condemned the scheme as useless, alleging that, if a landing were effected anywhere on an island, the threat of laying waste the plantations with fire would cause the capitulation of any part, as it had done in the last war at Brimstone Hill, in St. Kitt's. On the 24th Mr. Beaufoy moved to bring in a bill to establish an everlasting thanksgiving anniversary for the glorious revolution. The leave was granted, and the bill passed, but the lords threw it out on the motion of the bishop of Bangor, Dr. Warren, who showed that the event was expressly commemorated in the Church service. On the 2nd of April Fox renewed his attempts to repeal the shop tax, and now succeeded. Mr. Dempster also succeeded in getting repealed the additional tax and restrictions on hawkers and pedlars.

On the 12th of May, the report of the privy council on the subject of the slave trade was brought up by Mr. Pitt. It was a voluminous one, with ample details of evidence. The lords of council, during the recess, had put forth great and incessant exertions in collecting this evidence. The associated committee had engaged all the persons they could discover to be possessed of influence and information on the subject, in the inquiry. They had established committees all over the country, and had agents travelling into the great sea ports, and even abroad, to collect facts on the question. On the other hand, those interested in the trade had been equally active. They prepared calculations most alarming of the effects of any interference with the trade on our maritime towns, our West India Islands, and on the general trade and revenues of the country. Petitions in great numbers were sent up to lay before the houses of parliament, from shipowners, manufacturers, proprietors, and mortgagees of estates. Counter petitions from the abolitionists, with statements of the cruelties and demoralising effects of the trade, were presented.

The house, on receiving the report, having resolved itself into a committee, Mr. Wilberforce introduced the question in a long, circumstantial, and able speech. Ho first described the desolating and brutalising effect of this trade in the heart of Africa itself, where it caused the African princes to abandon all other commerce, and to engage in the most savage wars with their neighbours, as well as in the most frightful oppressions of their own subjects, to furnish slaves for the European merchants. He then described the horrors of the middle passage, and the consequent vices and diseases introduced into the plantations; arguing that the stoppage of the trade would lead to the growth of a healthy population in the islands themselves, and prove, eventually, more profitable to the planter. He then produced evidence to show its effect on our mercantile marine, affirming that, so far from its being the nursery, it was the grave of our navy. He proved this by reference to the muster-rolls of vessels. He alluded to the great argument, that, if we abandoned this trade, the French would take it up. Were that the case, he said, the trade was such a curse, so wicked and so impolitic, that we could not wish our worst enemies a worse pursuit. But France, he declared, was too enlightened to take up a trade which England had abandoned as ruinous and scandalous; that M. Necker, when minister-, had recorded his abhorrence of the traffic, and the king of France had refused to dissolve a society formed for the abolition, expressing his pleasure that it existed. He concluded by moving twelve resolutions, declaratory of the state of the trade in general, and affirming the propriety of discontinuing it. Pitt proposed that the resolutions should be entered on the journals. They were opposed by lord Penrhyn, Mr. Gascoigne, Sir William Yonge, and others, but warmly supported by Burke and Fox; Burke declaring that the speech of Wilberforce was equal to any effort of modern oratory, perhaps to any of Demosthenes himself.

On the subject being renewed on the 21st, it was opposed by alderman Sawbridge and Mr. Henniker, the latter of whom quoted a letter from the king of Dahomy to George I., in proof that it was not the slave trade which brutalised such savage despots, but, on the contrary, that it was a mercy to bring away their wretched subjects from them. Fox denied that a single satisfactory argument could be advanced in favour of so diabolical, so disgusting, a trade. He applauded Wilberforce for having brought forward the subject, and, referring to the argument regarding France, he reminded the house that events were taking place there in favour of liberty, which must lead the French greatly to sympathise with our proceedings. He said he had often been accused of unnecessary severity of opinion regarding France, but be trusted that now she was as likely as any nation on the face of the earth to catch a spark from us, and run the race of humanity with us. On the other hand, the representatives of the trade in the house exhibited the most bitter and excited spirit. Mr. Molyneux declared that to annihilate the trade and make no compensation, was an act of swindling. Mr. Macnamara characterised the measure as hypocritical, fanatical, and methodistical. The house sate in committee for several days, hearing evidence, and then adjourned the further consideration of the question till the next session, sir William Dolben's bill for regulating the middle passage being renewed.

Early in May Mr. Beaufoy renewed his attempt to relieve dissenters from the operation of the Test and Corporation Acts, but without success; and on the 18th the earl of Stanhope brought in a bill to relieve the members of the church of England from sundry penalties and disabilities made in the time of Elizabeth and her successor, and for the freedom of religion in general. He noted the enactments against those who did not attend service at the church, and who ate meat on prohibited days; he specified a law of James I. against the exportation of women; a canon of the church against marrying two wives, or one widow; to the laws against witches, &c. He was severely handled by the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of Bangor, St. Asaph, and St. David's, and his bill was rejected without a division. But the earl assured them he would bring in another, and if he could not load away their rubbish by cartfuls, he would endeavour to carry it off in wheelbarrows; if that mode of removal was resisted, he would, if possible, take it away with a spade, a little at a time. He next introduced a bill to relieve the Society of Friends from vexatious prosecutions on account of tithes, but with like want of success. Fortunately, time has made much of the rubbish which the noble earl wished to cart away perfectly innocuous, and subsequent legislation has greatly mitigated the process for the recovery of tithes.

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