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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 6


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And mariners, though shipwrecked, fear to land.

George Grenville succeeded to both Bute and Dashwood, becoming first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer, and the king announced that he had intrusted the direction of affairs to him, and the lords Egremont and Halifax, the secretaries of state, whence they soon acquired the name of "The Triumvirate." The duke of Bedford quitted his post as ambassador at Paris, and was succeeded by the earl of Hertford. The earl of Sandwich became head of the admiralty, and the earl of Shelburne head of the board of trade. Old marshal Ligonier was removed from the post of master of the ordnance, to make way for the marquis of Granby, but received a peerage. These changes being completed, the king closed the session of parliament on the 19th of April, with a speech, in which he declared the peace honourable to his crown, and beneficial to his people.

This avowal in the royal speech called forth John Wilkes in No. 45 of the "North Briton," destined to become a famous number indeed. Wilkes had ceased in the "North Briton" to employ mere initials when commenting on leading men in parliament or government; and he now boldly declared that the speech put into the king's mouth by the ministers was false in its assertion, that the peace was either honourable to the crown or beneficial to the country. This was regarded as a gross insult to his majesty, though it was avowedly declared to attack only the ministry; and on the 30th of April, Wilkes was arrested upon a "general warrant," that is, a warrant not mentioning him or any one by name, but applying to the authors, printers, and publishers, of the paper in question.

George Grenville, the new minister, had, of course, the credit of this proceeding; though it was well known that Bute still secretly directed the movements of government, and he or the king might be the real authors of the order. George Grenville, a plain, methodical man, of no remarkable talent, thus inaugurated the first remarkable act of his administration - he raised Wilkes into a wonderful notoriety; and his next great act was to be the passing of the Stamp Act, by which he lost us America. Nothing could have been so fortunate for Wilkes. It was by audacity rather than talent that such a man must make his reputation with the public, and this afforded him the occasion; this made a martyr and a hero of him. As for the number itself, it was declared to be below the usual merit of the "North Briton," which was altogether more distinguished for reckless, bold assertion, and daring onslaught on ministers, than for wit or ability. Compared with the keen, stinging, scarifying diatribes of "Junius" of that period, how bald and tame reads now the "North Briton!" Burke, some years afterwards, referring in the house of commons to this No. 45, described it as a weak mixtüre of vinegar and water. But it was foolishly made important by the government, and Wilkes was not the man to let the opportunity go unimproved. The king's messengers commenced their work by a blunder; they arrested Leach, a printer, who had no connection with the paper. They then, however, secured Kearsley, the publisher, who named Balfe as the printer. These two men had been carried before lord Halifax, on the 29th, and, admitting that Wilkes was the author of the paper, he was seized too. Wilkes assumed such a tone, declaring that the messengers were acting on an illegal authority, a general warrant, and menacing them with the consequences, that, in alarm, they returned without him. But receiving more positive orders, the next morning they arrested him, without even allowing him to see the warrant, though he demanded it, and which they were bound legally to have shown to him. They conveyed him to the house of lord Halifax. Lord Temple, with whom, as well as with Pitt, Wilkes had been on good terms, hurried to the court of common pleas for a writ of habeas corpus on his behalf; but lord Halifax and his brother secretary, Egremont, had used such diligence, that Wilkes, who refused to answer any questions put to him under such a warrant, was already committed to the Tower.

Wilkes entered the Tower in all the elation of spirits which the occasion of acting the political hero naturally inspired. He asked to be confined in the same room which had been occupied by lord Egremont's father on a charge of treason; and he sate down and wrote to his daughter in France, congratulating her on living in a free country. He was soon called on by the dukes of Bolton and Grafton, and lord Temple, who, as well as his own friends, his solicitor, and counsel, were refused admittance. His house was entered, his papers seized, and examined by Wood, the under-secretary of state, and Carteret Webb, the solicitor to the treasury. It was soon deemed advisable to relax the severity of Wilkes' confinement, to allow him the free use of writing materials, and to admit his friends, amongst whom appeared lord Temple and the duke of Grafton. A second writ of habeas corpus was obtained, and, on the 3rd of May, Wilkes was conveyed to the court of common pleas, before Sir Charles Pratt, where his case was stated by Mr. Serjeant Glynn, and then Wilkes himself made a speech of an hour long. In this he spoke with much flippancy, declaring that there was a dark conspiracy on foot to destroy the liberties of the nation, and that he had been selected as the first victim, because he had refused to be corrupted and bought up by government - the notorious fact being that Wilkes had repeatedly been refused admission to place, and that his rancour against government sprang from that cause. As for himself, he declared that he had been treated worse than any rebel Scot. At this word Scot, the people, being reminded of their antipathy to Bute, set up a great shout, which the lord chief- justice instantly stopped.

On the 6th of May he was brought up to hear the joint opinion of the judges, which was that, though general warrants might not be strictly illegal, the arrest of Wilkes could not be maintained, on account of his privilege as a member of parliament; that nothing short of treason, felony, and an actual breach of the peace, could interfere with that privilege, and that a libel could not be termed a breach of the peace. The judgment of the bench, therefore, was that Mr. Wilkes be discharged from his imprisonment.

The release of Wilkes by the court of common pleas was a triumph over ministers, which, had they been wise, would have induced them to take no further notice of him. They had only made a popular demigod of him. The people, not I only in London, but all over the country, celebrated his exit from the Tower with the liveliest demonstrations, especially in the cider districts, still smarting under the new tax, and where they accordingly once more paraded the jack-boot and petticoat, adding two effigies - one of Bute, dressed in a Scotch plaid and with a blue ribbon, the other no less a person than the king, led by the nose by Bute.

Wilkes, elated with his triumph and this public favour, wrote a letter to the secretaries of state, lords Halifax and Egremont, charging them with having robbed his house: - "My lords, - On my return from Westminster Hall, where I have been discharged from my commitment to the Tower under your lordships' warrant, I find that my house has been robbed, and am informed that the stolen goods are in the possession of one or both of your lordships. I therefore insist that you do forthwith return them to your humble servant, - John Wilkes."

Besides his papers, the articles missing were a silver candlestick, his pocket-book, containing some bills, and a quarto paper-book, containing private accounts. Wilkes set up in his own house a printing press, for printing the "North Briton." He printed and circulated this letter, and the secretaries of state felt compelled to reply to it. They told him that his expressions were indecent and scurrilous; but the very act of replying to such an accusation was a humiliation. There were not wanting numbers, both in parliament and out of it, who took the part of Wilkes, as an oppressed individual. The press loudly vindicated him; it went for little with the opposition and the newspapers that Wilkes was a man of a notoriously profligate life; that he had abused and forsaken his wife; that he had dissipated his and her fortune; and then had abused the ministry because they would not pension him. He was held up as one of the greatest and purest patriots that ever lived - a second Hampden or Algernon Sydney. He commenced an action against the secretaries of state, and threatened Egremont with a challenge as soon as these proceedings should terminate. He then went over to Paris, where he was challenged by Forbes, a Scotch exile in the French service, but the duel was prevented by the lieutenant of police.

The English government, instead of treating Wilkes with a dignified indifference, was weak enough to show how deeply it was touched by him, dismissed him from his commission of colonel of the Buckinghamshire militia, and treated lord Temple as an abettor of his, by depriving him of the lord- lieutenancy of the same county, and striking his name from the list of privy councillors, giving the lord-lieutenancy to Dashwood, now lord le Despencer.

Whilst these damaging proceedings were in course, Grenville found that he had internal as well as external enemies. It was seen that there was a coolness betwixt himself and Bute. Bute expected to rule through Grenville; but Grenville was too proud to act the part of a subordinate. The consequence was, that the Triumvirate, not having the favour of the favourite, found that they had not the confidence of the king. Whilst Grenville was considering how to strengthen himself, he was additionally weakened by the death of lord Egremont, on the 20th of August. Bute at once took it for granted that the Grenville cabinet could no longer go on, and recommended the king to send again for Pitt.

That Bute should recommend Pitt, whose policy he had so long and utterly condemned, was not the result of spleen against Grenville, but it was a wonderful justification of Pitt's administration. It was, in fact, admitting that he alone was the man of successful management; that all other attempts were failures. The duke of Bedford gave the same counsel; although, little more than five months before, he had been equally hostile to Pitt. The king sent for the great commoner, who, however, would not come till he had been formally commanded. On the 27th of August he had an audience of the king at Buckingham House. Grenville, coming there to transact business, was annoyed to see Pitt's chair standing in the court, and had to wait till the interview was over, when he went in himself; but the king said not a word of Pitt having been there. George had, indeed, intimated a day or two before, that he might send for Pitt; but this closeness was not very encouraging to Grenville. Pitt, however, insisted on having in with him all, or nearly all, his old colleagues, and this was too much for the king; whilst not to have had them would have been too little for Pitt, who was too wise to take office without efficient and congenial colleagues. The king, nevertheless, did not openly object, but allowed Pitt to go away with the impression that he would assent to his demands. This was Saturday, and Pitt announced this belief to the dukes of Devonshire and Newcastle, and the marquis of Rockingham. But on Sunday Grenville had had an interview with the king, and finding that he considered Pitt's terms too hard, had laboured successfully to confirm him in that opinion. Accordingly, on Monday, at a second meeting, the king named the duke of Northumberland, lord Halifax, and George Grenville, for leading posts in the cabinet, saying, "Poor George Grenville, he is your near relation, and you once loved him." Pitt said that it would not do, bowed and retired; the poor king saying, "My honour is concerned, and I must support it." He could not perceive that only able men can support a king's honour.

Grenville, chagrined as he was, still clung to the government, and called in the duke of Bedford, as president of the council, lord Sandwich, as secretary of state, lord Egremont succeeding the latter at the admiralty. Lord Hillsborough succeeded lord Shelbourne at the board of trade. Such was the government which was to supersede the necessity of Pitt; lord Chesterfield declaring that they could not meet the parliament, for that they had not a man in the commons who had either abilities or words enough to call a coach. The ministers endeavoured to obtain congratulatory addresses from the mayors of towns and lord-lieutenants of counties, on the peace, but there was a mortifying coldness every-' where.

Parliament met on the 10th of November, and the very first object which engaged the attention of both houses was Wilkes. In such fiery haste were ministers, that lord Sandwich, in the peers, started up, before the king's speech could be considered, and declared that he held in his hand a most filthy and atrocious libel, written by Wilkes, called "An Essay on Woman." He denounced it as everything that was impious and indecent, and as a breach of privilege, by most unwarrantably and scandalously introducing the name of one of the right reverend prelates. He complained, too, of another profane production by the same hand - a parody on "The Veni Creator."

Now, though the "Essay on Woman" was undoubtedly a vile production, it was as dull as it was vile. The wit of Wilkes, such as it was, came from his tongue, and not from his pen. It was of that coarse character, and derived so much of its pungency from the adventitious circumstances of the moment, that it was lost in transferring it to paper, and was by no means likely to acquire so much admiration with the age as to corrupt it. But the most singular part of the matter, and the great offence, was its publication; and this was not the work of Wilkes, but of lord Sandwich himself. Wilkes never had published the filth. He had written, as it appeared, by the assistance of a profligate, and now deceased son of archbishop Potter this "Essay on Woman;" but he had never published it. It had lain in his desk, and had only been read to two persons - one of whom was Sandwich himself. When Wilkes, however, was driven to set up a printing press in his own house, he had printed a dozen copies of the "Essay on Woman," to give to his dissolute friends, whom he used to meet at the Dilletanti Club, in Palace Yard. Sandwich, aware of the existence of the essay, had bribed one of Wilkes's printers, named Curry, to lend him a copy of it, and had paid him five guineas as a guarantee for its safe return.

Such were the disgraceful means employed to drag this nuisance under the public nose, in order to damage Wilkes. Sandwich, and both houses of parliament, which entertained the matter, were the real publishers. They, who should have suppressed it, if published, made it known, and really committed the greatest offence; for they gave it a universal notoriety, and excited a keen curiosity about it. The ministers listened to passage after passage, which Sandwich read, till lord Lyttleton, sick of the rubbish, begged that they might have no more.

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Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 6

Great seal of England
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Queen Charlotte
Queen Charlotte >>>>
Catherine II
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Storming the fortress of Moro
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View in the Island of Cuba
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Monument erected to the memory of the sufferers in the Black Hole, Calcutta
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Medal struck in commemoration of the battle of Plassy
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Threatened arrest of Wilkes
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Duel between Wilkes and Martin
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North Briton
North Briton >>>>

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