OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Reign of George III. (Continued) page 7


Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 <7> 8 9 10 11 12 13

In the commons, George Grenville led the attack against Chatham and the embargo, and both were warmly defended by alderman Beckford, Pitt's particular friend, a man of enormous wealth. He, too, in his zeal, unfortunately stumbled on an unlucky phrase, namely, that the crown had, in cases of necessity, a power to dispense with the law. Grenville took down the words, and such a tempest burst on the head of the poor alderman, that he was very glad to retract his slip of the tongue, protesting that he had, in his warmth, said more than he intended. In the end, ministers were obliged to cover themselves and their advisers by a bill of indemnity.

Still the storm of opposition raged, and Chatham found himself involved in the most harassing dilemmas by the very connections against whom he had vowed eternal war. The old duke of Newcastle had parliamentary influence enough to do much mischief, and, spite of his declared resolve never to be in any ministry with him, he felt compelled to concede that point. But Newcastle would not come in without the usual good things for his friends, and hence fresh embarrassments, fresh resentments. Newcastle wanted a post for Sir John Shelley, a near relative of his, and Chatham proposed to lord Edgecumbe to vacate his post of treasurer of the household for that of a lord of the bedchamber. Edgecumbe refused, Chatham insisted, exclaiming, angrily, in reference to lord Edgecumbe's parliamentary influence, "I despise your parliamentary interest! I don't want your assistance! I will rely on the favour and attachment of the people, and dare your proudest connections."

But this language and this lofty conduct wounded and irritated the connections all round. General Conway, one of his stanchest supporters, remonstrated on behalf of his friend, lord Edgecumbe, who had such great connections, such great influence, and had lately given a borough to Conway's nephew, lord Beauchamp. But the proud Chatham stood firm; Edgecumbe was compelled to resign, and Shelley took his place. The consequence was, however, that with him resigned lords Besborough, Scarborough, Monson, the duke of Portland, Sir Charles Saunders, first lord of the admiralty, and Sir William Meredith, junior lord.

Such were the desolating effects of the slightest attack on this sacred bulwark of family connection. None but a man of the daring and haughty spirit of Pitt would have ventured to touch this ark of aristocratic self-love. Even he could not do it without paralysing the power and engrossing the energies which should have been exerted on the great measures of national importance. In such pitiful contests with the barnacles of the monarchy was wasted the invaluable time, and were put aside the magnificent plans, of the great statesman of the age.

To fill up the deserted ranks, Chatham was necessitated to apply to the Bedfords. Lord Gower hastened down to Woburn, and the duke of Bedford came up, but his demands were so exorbitant that they defeated themselves. The king highly resented them, and showed much spirit on the occasion. He wrote to Chatham, that he expected, from Bedford choosing to deliver his answer in person, that he meant to attempt obtaining an office or two in addition to those offered, but could not imagine that even the rapaciousness of his friend could presume to think of more. He recommended firmness, to show all such presumers of how

little consequence they were. He expressed his determination to rout out the present method of parties banding together, which could only be done by engaging able men, i let their connections be what they might. Accordingly, the Gazette speedily announced, as those who filled the vacant places - Sir Edward Hawke, as first lord of the admiralty; Mr. Jenkinson, afterwards lord Liverpool, and Sir Piercy Brett, junior lords. Lord le Despencer was made postmaster general; lord Cornwallis, chief-justice in eyre; earl of Hertford, lord chamberlain; Mr. Hans Stanley, cofferer; Mr. Nugent was created lord Clare of Ireland, and made head of the board of trade. These noblemen and gentlemen still, however, were friends and partisans, many of them of the Bedfords, of Newcastle, and of Bute, so that there was conciliation as well as defiance.

In one particular Chatham showed a determined and, as it proved, mischievous obstinacy. It was intimated to him by a friend that Edmund Burke was not averse to take office under him, declaring him to be " the readiest man in the house, perhaps, on all points, and one on whom the most thorough dependence might be placed, where he once owned an obligation." Chatham rejected the proposal haughtily, assigning as a reason that the maxims and notions of trade held by Mr. Burke were irreconcilable to his own. By this conduct - could it be dictated by jealousy of the rising genius? - Chatham made a steady enemy of Burke.

On the 25th of November alderman Beckford brought forward a motion for inquiring into the affairs of the East India Company at a future day, in a committee of the whole! house. This motion was, in reality, made at the instigation of Chatham. He had long dwelt on this project, but he deemed it would come before the public in a more favourable manner if introduced as an independent motion, and afterwards taken up on its own merits by the government. He therefore engaged Beckford, who was a man of strong sense and upright nature, though of somewhat defective education, to propose the inquiry. Beckford had not only long been of the highest influence in the City, but had acquired a good standing in the house from his bold and independent character.

The subject was of the very greatest importance. The I East India Company, holding only a charter to maintain a few trading factories on the coasts and up the rivers of India, had begun a system of conquest which had already extended their dominion over a great part of Bengal, Bahar, Orissa, and the Carnatic, and was likely to extend it over all India in time. The question was of the highest moment, in whom was to reside the sovereignty of these magnificent territories? The crown of Great Britain, or in this mercantile company? The British troops and fleets had effected these conquests, and had been paid chiefly out of the spoils of the conquered. Neither on that ground not any ground of imperial subordination could these vast states be suffered to remain in the hands of mere subjects. The company derived its right to be in India at all from the charter obtained from the imperial government. It could not be permitted to a mere trading company to establish a right of sovereignty independent of their own government. But Chatham saw that the sooner this question was determined, the easier and the better. It was necessary for the authority of England, as well as for the protection of the nations, that the rights of the crown should be asserted. The accounts which were continually arriving from India were of the most unbounded rapacity and oppression of the company's servants; the honour of England was concerned to take the unhappy Hindoos out of the hands of a tribe of greedy and vulgar factors, who had no regard to anything but extortion and the amassing guilty wealth.

The motion of Beckford was opposed by Grenville and Charles Yorke. What is singular, Burke, destined in after years to expose the long train of horrors and crimes which the constant sway of the company had produced, at this time opposed the motion for inquiry with all his eloquence, and with all the revived resentment to Chatham which had just received its birth. He made no doubt of the question originating with Chatham; and, in no obscure language, intimated that he had kept his views on this great topic from both Townshend and Conway. He described Chatham as a person so sublimely and immeasurably high, that the greatest abilities and the most amiable dispositions amongst his colleagues could not gain access to him - a being before whom thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, and powers, "waving his hand over the whole treasury bench behind him," all veil their faces with their wings!

It was true that Chatham had not let Townshend or Conway into the full knowledge of his plans regarding the India question, but they were aware of the general nature of it, and were secretly opposed to it. The motion for inquiry was carried, and the company, at a full court, passed an unanimous vote recommending the directors, instead of opposing government, to endeavour to treat with them for terms.

In the Christmas recess Chatham hastened to Bath, to improve his health for the campaign of the ensuing session; but when parliament met again, in the middle of January, 1767, ministers were in consternation at his not reappearing. His cabinet was such a medley, composed of so many materials, drawn from the quarters of his enemies, that his best friends despaired of its working without his presence. Tidings came that he was suffering from a severe attack of his old tormentor, the gout; and weeks passed on, and he still was absent. At length they were greatly relieved by hearing that, though still in a bad condition, he was on the way. The good news quickly changed. He had reached the Castle Inn, at Marlborough, where he lay for a fortnight, in such a state that he was utterly incapacitated for business. The duke of Grafton and Beckford, who were his most devoted adherents, were thunder-struck. They found it impossible to keep in order the heterogeneous elements of the cabinet. All the hostile qualities, which would have lain still under the hand of the great magician, bristled up, and came boldly out. The spirit of Bedford, of Newcastle, and of Rockingham, was active in their partisans, and gathered courage to do mischief. 'Lord Shelburne and the duke of Grafton became estranged; Charles Townshend, who had as much ambition and eccentricity as talent, began to show airs, and aim at supremacy. Grafton implored Chatham to come to town if possible, and when that was declared impracticable, to allow him to go down, and consult with him in his sick chamber. But he was informed that the minister was equally unable to move or to consult.

Under these unfortunate circumstances, Charles Townshend, as chancellor of the exchequer, proposed the annual rate for the land-tax. He called for the amount of four shillings in the pound, the rate at which it had stood during the war; but he promised next year to reduce it to three. The country gentlemen grumbled, representing that in years of peace it was commonly reduced to three and sometimes to two. Grenville saw his advantage - his great opponent away - the landholders ready to rebel, and he moved an amendment that, instead of next year, the reduction should take place immediately. Dowdeswell supported him, and the amendment was carried by two hundred and six votes against a hundred and eighty-eight. The opposition was astonished at its own success, and yet it need not; they who had to vote were chiefly land-owners, and men who did not like taxing themselves. As lord Chesterfield observed, "All the landed gentlemen had bribed themselves with this shilling in the pound."

The opposition was in ecstacies: it was the first defeat of ministers on a financial question since the days of Walpole, and in our time, the chancellor would have resigned. The blow seemed to rouse Chatham. Three days after this event, on the 2nd of March, he arrived in town, though swathed in flannel, and scarcely able to move hand or foot. He was in the highest state of indignation against Townshend, not only as regarded the land-tax, by which half a million was struck from the revenue of the year, but because he had been listening to overtures from the directors of the India House, calculated to damage the great scheme of Indian administration which Chatham was contemplating. He declared that the chancellor of the exchequer and himself could not hold office together. A few days, and Townshend would have been dismissed from office, and the country might have escaped one of its greatest shocks; but, unfortunately, the malady of Chatham returned with redoubled violence, and in a new and more terrible form. He was obliged to refuse seeing any one on state affairs. For a time his colleagues and the king were urgent for some communication with him, supposing that his illness was merely his old enemy, the gout, and there was much dissatisfaction amongst his friends, and exultation amongst his enemies at what was deemed his crotchety humour in so entirely shutting himself up under such critical circumstances, when his own fame, his own great plans, and the welfare of the state, were all at stake. But, in time, it came to be understood that this refusal to see any one, or to comply with the repeated and earnest desires of the king, expressed in letters to him, to admit Grafton, as one of his best friends, or to examine important papers, was no voluntary matter, but the melancholy result of his ailment. It seems to have been the fact, that anxious, when at Marlborough, to get to town and resume the reins of business, his physician, Dr. Addington, had given him some strong medicines to disperse

the gout. These had succeeded in driving it from his extremities, but only to diffuse it all over the system, and to fix it on the nerves. The consequence was that the physical frame, oppressed by this incubus of disease, oppressed the mighty mind of Pitt, and reduced him to a condition of nervous imbecility. Some people imagined that he had become deranged, but that was not the case; he was suffering no imaginary terrors or illusions, but an utter prostration of his intellectual vigour. Lord Chesterfield expressed his condition, when being told that Chatham was disabled by the gout, he replied, "No, a good fit of the gout would cure him!" That is, one of his usual attacks of gout in his extremities, would be a proof that it had quitted its present insidious hold on his whole system.

Whately, the secretary of Grenville, thus describes his condition, as obtained from members of the family: " Lord Chatham's state of health is certainly the lowest state of dejection and debility that mind and body can be in. He sits all the day leaning on his hands, which he supports on the table; does not permit any person to remain in the room; knocks when he wants anything; and, having made his wants known, gives a signal, without speaking, to the person who answered to his call to retire."

The account given by the duke of Grafton, who obtained a brief interview with him, in May, on the most urgent plea, is quite in accordance with this of Grenville's secretary. "Though I expected," he says, "to find lord Chatham very ill indeed, his situation was different from what I had imagined. His nerves and spirits were affected to a dreadful degree, and the sight of his great mind bowed down and thus weakened by disorder, would have filled me with grief and concern if I had not long borne a sincere attachment to his person and character." At times, the slightest mention of business would throw him into violent agitations; at others, when such matters were carefully kept from him, he would remain calm, and almost cheerful, but utterly incapable of exerting his intellect. In this lamentable condition he continued for upwards of a year.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 <7> 8 9 10 11 12 13

Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued) page 7

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin >>>>
William Pitt
William Pitt >>>>
The Princess Amelia
The Princess Amelia >>>>
Riots at Boston
Riots at Boston >>>>
Lord Clive
Lord Clive >>>>
John Wilkes
John Wilkes >>>>
Wilkes triumphal entry into the city
Wilkes triumphal entry into the city >>>>
Town and Harbour of Boston
Town and Harbour of Boston >>>>
Faneuil hall
Faneuil hall >>>>
British troops entering Boston
British troops entering Boston >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About