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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 7

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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.

The whole thing was a stupid parody on Pope's "Essay on Man;" in which, instead of the inscription to Bolingbroke, commencing "Awake, my St. John!" it commenced, "Awake, my Sandwich!" The name of the prelate introduced was that of Warburton, now bishop of Gloucester, in ridicule of his celebrated commentary on the "Essay on Man." Warburton, who was rather famous for heterodoxy, but not for indecency, might have let the silly squib alone, but he was transported to fury, and declared in the wildest excitement, that the blackest fiend in hell would scorn to keep company with Wilkes - nay, he begged pardon of Satan for naming them together.

This was severe satire on a good many members of parliament, especially on Sandwich and Dashwood, now in the peers, who had long been boon companions of Wilkes in the most indecent of his orgies. These virtuous peers, these Satans correcting sin, readily agreed to vote the two parodies blasphemous, and breaches of privilege, but lord Mansfield moved that they should adjourn the question for a couple of days, in order to give Wilkes opportunity for explanation or defence.

In the commons, on the same day, Grenville delivered a message from the crown, announcing to the house the imprisonment of one of their members during the recess. Wilkes immediately rose in his place, and complained of the breach of that house's privilege in his person; of the entry of his house, the breaking open his desk, and the imprisonment of his person - imprisonment pronounced by the highest legal authority to be illegal, and therefore tyrannical. He moved that the house should take the question of privilege into immediate consideration. On the other hand, lord North, who was a member of the treasury board, and Sir Fletcher Norton, attorney-general, put in the depositions of the printer and publisher, proving the authorship of No. 45 of the "North Briton" on Wilkes, and pressing for rigorous measures' against him. A warm debate ensued, in which Pitt opposed the proceedings to a certain extent, declaring that he could never understand exactly what a libel was. Notwithstanding, the commons voted, by a large majority, that No. 45 of the "North Briton" was a false, scandalous, and seditious libel, tending to traitorous insurrection, and that it should be burnt by the common hangman.

Nor did the wrath of the commons stop here; some of the members actually thirsted for his blood. There was a common opinion at that time that Wilkes, with all his bluster, was a coward. The challenge of Forbes had come to nothing; but that was not the fault of Wilkes, but of the French police. He had been challenged by lord Talbot for ridiculing the fact of Talbot's horse at the coronation, when performing an absurd part of that old feudal ceremony, turning his tail on the king and queen. There resulted no harm from that; for having exchanged shots by moonlight, without injury to either of them, they had shook hands and retired to the Red Lion, at Bagshot, and spent the evening together in jollity - Talbot being as great a bon vivant as Wilkes. This friendly termination - no uncommon circumstance - occasioned the report that the whole was a sham. Encouraged by this popular notion of Wilkes's cowardice, during the debate in the commons, Mr. Samuel Martin, member for Camelford, who had been secretary to the treasury under Bute, and had been grievously ridiculed in the "North Briton," made a point of insulting Wilkes. Looking across the house to where Wilkes sate, he said, in a marked and ferocious manner, "Whoever stabs a reputation in the dark, without setting his name, is a cowardly, malignant, and infamous scoundrel." To leave no mistake, he repeated the words a second time.

Wilkes appeared to take no notice at the time, but the next morning he wrote a note to Martin, concluding thus: - "To cut off ignorance as to the author, I whisper in your ear, that every passage in the 'North Briton,' in which you have been named, or even alluded to, was written by your humble servant, John Wilkes." The consequence was a duel that evening, in which Wilkes received a dangerous wound in the side from Martin at the second fire. The consequences were an intense excitement in favour of Wilkes, and of execration against the commons. Wilkes was reported to be delirious, and crowds collected in the streets before his house, calling for vengeance on his murderers. Sandwich was especially denounced; in return for his dragging forth the obscenity of Wilkes, his own private life was ransacked for scandalous anecdotes, and they were only too plentiful. His lewd and blasphemous revels with Wilkes himself, at Medenham Abbey, and in London, were exposed. It was declared that only a fortnight before he had supped at a tavern in town with Wilkes, and other loose characters, and singing lewd catches together. Horace Walpole says that Sandwich's conduct to Wilkes had brought forth such a catalogue of his own impurities as was incredible. The "Beggars' Opera" being just then acted at Covent Garden, when Macheath uttered the words, "That Jemmy Twitcher should 'peach, I own surprises me!" the whole audience burst into one most tumultuous applause at the obvious application; and thenceforth Jemmy Twitcher was the name of Sandwich much more commonly than that of his title.

Yet, notwithstanding this high tide of public opinion, parliament went on trying to crush, but only, in reality, to deify Wilkes. He could not be called to the bar of the lords, as was ordered, but that house carried an address to the crown, praying for a prosecution of the author of the " Essay on Woman;" and assented to the order of the commons, that the paper should be burnt by the hangman.

Still the affairs of Wilkes continued to occupy almost the sole thought and interest of the session. On the 23rd of November the question of privilege came on; and though he was absent, it was actively pushed by the ministers. Mr. Wilbraham protested against the discussion without the presence of Wilkes, and his being heard at the bar in his defence. Pitt attended, though suffering awfully from the gout, propped on crutches, and his very hands wrapped in flannel. He maintained the question of privilege, but took care to separate himself from Wilkes in it. He was vehement against parliament surrendering one atom of its privilege; but he was equally vehement against Wilkes and the "North Briton." Wilkes and his publisher he gave up to all the vengeance of government, as just and necessary for the maintenance of religion and morals; but he endeavoured to separate his brother-in-law, lord Temple, from all charge of intimacy or concert with Wilkes. This was certainly no maintenance of morals in Pitt's own person, for nothing was more notorious than lord Temple's intimacy and advocacy of Wilkes. He had actually paraded both since these prosecutions began. He had visited Wilkes at the earliest possible moment in the Tower; he had exerted himself personally to procure the writ of habeas corpus for him; he had zealously defended him in his place in the house of peers.

The rest of the debate was violent and personal, and ended in voting, by two hundred and fifty-eight against one hundred and thirty-three, that the privilege of parliament did not extend to the publication of seditious libels; the resolution ordering the " North Briton " to be burnt by the hangman was confirmed. These votes being sent up to the lords, on the 25th they also debated the question, and the duke of Cumberland, lord Shelburne, and the duke of Newcastle, defended the privilege of parliament as violated in the person of Wilkes. In the end, however, the ministers obtained a majority of a hundred and fourteen against thirty-eight. Seventeen peers entered a strong protest against the decision. On the 1st of December there was a conference of the two houses, when they agreed to a loyal address to the king, expressing their detestation of the libels against him.

The next day Wilkes was ordered to attend at the bar of the house, if his health permitted him; and, on the 3rd, the sheriff of London was ordered to execute the burning of the "North Briton" in Cheapside. Alderman Harley, the sheriff, attended by one of the members for the City, and all the City officers, and the hangman, proceeded to perform this most unpopular office - the lord mayor and the common council awaiting the event at the Mansion House. The duty was no less dangerous than had been anticipated. The mob cried "Wilkes and liberty for ever!" and were encouraged by numbers of gentlemen from windows and balconies waving their handkerchiefs, for Wilkes was supported almost to a man in the City. The sheriff and his company were hissed, hooted, pelted with mud from the kennels, and other missives of a more substantial nature. A piece of wood from the fire was flung at the sheriffs carriage, dashed in the window, and wounded him in the face with the broken glass. The hangman struggled boldly to set fire to the obnoxious journal, and, having only partly succeeded, the whole City host of officials hurried back to the Mansion House, and the hangman after them. The mob then carried the rescued "North Briton" in triumph as far as Temple Bar, where they made a bonfire, and burnt, instead of it, a huge jack-boot.

Ministers, and their abettors in parliament, were highly incensed at this outburst. An inquiry was instituted in the house of lords, and continued for four days, witnesses being examined, but to little satisfaction of government, for these declared that the whole City thought Wilkes in the right. Both houses passed resolutions, thanking the sheriff for the discharge of his duty, but severely blaming the lord mayor and common council, and even threatening to deprive the City of its charter.

Simultaneously with these proceedings, the actions commenced by Wilkes, and the printer, publishers, and others arrested under the general warrant, were being tried in the common pleas. All the parties obtained verdicts for damages, and that of Wilkes was for a thousand pounds. Wilkes, all this time, had contrived to entertain his visitors with all kinds of stories to the disadvantage of lord Sandwich, and the ministers in general, which flew abroad like wildfire.

Chief-justice Pratt, strengthened by the verdicts, made a most decided declaration of the illegality and unconstitutional nature of general warrants. He said, "There is no authority in our law-books that mentions this kind of warrant, but in express terms to condemn them. Upon the most matured consideration, I am bold to say that this warrant is illegal; but I am far from wishing that a matter of this consequence should rest solely on my opinion." He then intimated that government could refer the question to the twelve judges, or to parliament itself. If he were proved wrong, he said, he should kiss the rod; but he should always consider it as a sort of iron for the chastisement of the people of Great Britain. Ministers did not think proper to refer the question to the twelve judges; but Pratt's judgment was afterwards confirmed by the court of king's bench.

Whilst all London was in a state of effervescence with the triumph of Wilkes over the ministers in the court of law, a foolish, or perhaps crazy, Scotchman, named Dun, went to Wilkes's house, and, being refused admittance, declared in a neighbouring coffee-house, that he and ten others had sworn to take Wilkes off. The Scotch hated him for his continual sarcasms on them in the "North Briton," and some members of the opposition of that country had voted with government against him in their spleen. Dun made a second attempt to get access to Wilkes; and a new penknife being found in his pocket, the friends of Wilkes in the commons charged him with an attempt against the life of a member I of the house. He was brought to the bar of the house, but he was dismissed, as being insane. The court of king's bench, however, did not let him off so easily; it detained him in prison, in default of finding bail and security.

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