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Reign of George III. (continued.) page 6


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Wedderburn, who was the son of a small landowner in Scotland, was an eloquent pleader, both in court and parliament, with all the ambition of Thurlow without his grasp of mind. He was rather specious than deep or comprehensive, but, with the sagacity of his country, he kept his own interest steadily in view, and did not hesitate to sacrifice his party to his hope of rising on any occasion. He set up as a violent oppositionist with Burke, Chatham, Barre, and the rest; but he suddenly quitted them for the, solicitor-generalship under lord North, giving, according to lord Campbell, the most flagrant example of ratting upon record, nor did he stop till he reached the woolsack and the title of lord Loughborough, and finally of earl of Rosslyn. But the addition to the cabinet of lord North which occasioned the greatest surprise, was that of the duke of Grafton. He received the privy seal.

The duke of Grafton had grown more dissolute and more indolent as he advanced in life. That patriotism which appeared to animate him under the noble guidance of Chatham, seemed now to have died out. He was a confirmed gambler and libertine, and was open to the perpetration of mean and paltry jobs. His conduct had brought down upon him some of the most flaying sarcasms and terrible diatribes of Junius, who did not hesitate now to couple his return to office with the coming back of Bute to England. That Bute returned with a mind still busy with schemes of influencing English affairs, is clear from his employing Capability Brown, as he was styled, the celebrated landscape gardener, to sound Chatham as to a coalition. Brown was employed by Chatham's friend, Calcraft, on his grounds at Leeds Abbey, in Kent, and he seized the opportunity to propound through Calcraft the overtures of Bute to Chatham. Nothing came of it, and nothing but what was derogatory to Chatham, who had so unsparingly denounced Bute as the curse of his country, could have come of it. Probably Chatham treated the proposal with due contempt.

But, if we are to believe Junius, Grafton's return to office, and Bute's return to England, had more connection. " Your grace's appointment to a seat in the cabinet," he says, " was announced to the public by the return of lord Bute to this country. When that noxious planet approaches England, he never fails to bring plague and pestilence along with him." Junius sketches the leading ministers of this cabinet with a free hand. He intimates that it needed nothing but Grafton's accession to complete it. " In vain would the sovereign have looked round him for another character so consummate as yours. Lord Mansfield shrinks from his principles; his ideas of government, perhaps, go further than your own, but his heart disgraces the theory of his understanding. Charles Fox is yet in blossom; and as for Mr. Wedderburn, there is something about him which even treachery cannot trust. For the present, therefore, the best of princes must have contented himself with lord Sandwich. There is something singularly benevolent in the character of our sovereign. From the moment that he ascended the throne there is no crime of which human nature is capable, and I call upon the recorder to witness it, that has not appeared venial in his sight. With any other prince, your shameful desertion of him in the midst of that distress which you alone had created, in the very crisis of danger, when he fancied he saw the throne already surrounded by men of virtues and abilities, would have outweighed the memory of your former services."

Such an administration boded little change for the better in the policy of the court, and the appointments now made for the prince of Wales's education. Lord Holderness was appointed governor; lord Mansfield's friend, doctor Markham, bishop of Chester, and, five years after, archbishop of York, preceptor; and doctor Cyril Jackson, sub-preceptor - the last by far the best appointment, for he was a fine scholar.

During the recess a violent quarrel had been going on in the city. John Wilkes, who invariably sank to insignificance when not stirring the muddy waters of political agitation, was equally stimulated to action by his necessities and his ambition. Though the Society of the Bill of Rights had raised no less than seventeen thousand pounds to discharge Wilkes's debts, this by no means sufficed for him. He had spent that and wanted more. Disputes arose in the society betwixt those who supported the incessant claims of Wilkes, and those who had grown disgusted with them and him. The society went to pieces; and amongst those who had been the warmest of Wilkes's friends, the Rev. John Home became one of his most determined enemies. Horne, who was a thorough-going demagogue, as that term was then understood, namely, a determined friend of the people, without being an enemy to constitutional monarchy, seems to have had sufficient cause for his distrust of Wilkes. He had been too long and intimately acquainted with that patriot not to know all his meanness. Wilkes was now offering himself as sheriff; but alderman Oliver, who had lately been in prison for his bold conduct in the affair of Miller, the printer, had refused to support the claim of Wilkes. In fact, not only he, but the lord mayor, alderman Townshend, and Sawbridge, were beginning to see through Wilkes. Oliver went further - he refused to serve as the other sheriff with Wilkes.

Government availed itself of these divisions to defeat the election of Wilkes. Alderman Bull became the second candidate with Wilkes, and government induced their party in the city to nominate aldermen Plumbe and Kirkman in opposition to them. Wilkes would probably have been defeated, especially as Oliver finally came forward, supported by all the eloquence and exertions of John Horne. But, fortunately for Wilkes and his fellow-candidate, Bull, a letter, sent by the government agent to a Mr. Smith in the city was misdelivered to another Mr. Smith, a supporter of Wilkes and Bull, announcing the exertions that government would make in support of their men, Plumbe and Kirkman. This letter was immediately published, and, alarming all the enemies of government, made them rally round Wilkes and Bull, who were accordingly elected. Oliver, who was a man of integrity, and had well deserved ' of the city, was left lowest on the poll, because he had slighted and then opposed Wilkes, and John Horne, for his share in the business, fell under the iron scourge of J unius, who, in one of his scarifying letters to the duke of Grafton, stigmatised Horne as a supporter of the ministerial candi- ' date, which was clearly false, for Oliver was not a ministerial candidate. He accused him of the solitary, vindictive malice of a monk, and taunted him with the failure of his candidate as the evidence of his own estimation with the people. This brought out Horne with his vigorous and sarcastic letter of July 13th, commencing, " Farce, Comedy, and Tragedy - Wilkes, Foote, and Junius, united at the same time against one poor parson." Horne showed that he had a pen equal in keenness and stinging satire, and superior in the statement of solid facts, to Junius - the only man who had measured lances successfully with him. He heaped unmeasured odium on Junius as a secret assassin, stabbing every man's character, and especially that of the king. And, in fact, the language which Junius applied to the monarch never, before or since, was applied with impunity by a subject to his sovereign. In his very reply to Horne, he says, " You cannot but know, nay, you dare not pretend to be ignorant, that the highest gratification of which the most detestable * * * in this nation is capable, would have been the defeat of Wilkes. I know that man much better than any of you. Nature intended him only for a good-humoured fool. A systematic education, with long practice, has made him a consummate hypocrite. Yet this man, to say nothing of his worthy ministers, you have assiduously laboured to gratify."

But if Horne, afterwards Horne Tooke, convinced many that Junius had at length found his match, the more direct consequences of his exposure as a writer of history were his unmasking the meannesses and unprincipled conduct of the popular idol, Wilkes. He showed that he had been ready to be the servile tool of government, if they would have paid at his own extravagant rate for his services; that he had assiduously besieged the ministers for pay and pension, and had robbed every man whom he called a friend, when he got the opportunity. He showed that Wilkes had solicited a pension of one thousand pounds a year in the Irish establishment; had accepted a clandestine pension for the Rockingham administration. He showed that the seventeen thousand pounds subscribed by the Society of the Bill of Rights, Wilkes had wasted in his private extravagance, instead of appropriating it to the discharge of his debts, as was intended. He revived the remembrance of his having run through his wife's fortune, and deserted her. That in his official position in the City, he had sold the posts in his appointment, amongst others, to his brother, his solicitor, &c. That whilst in the King's Bench, supported by his constituents, he had lived most extravagantly, drinking large quantities of claret; that he still retained six servants in his establishment, three of them French; that he had cheated his brother-in-law, Mr. Wildmer, out of a Welsh pony, and had pawned several rich suits of clothes which had been left in Iiis charge at Paris.

To counteract these damning charges, Wilkes was obliged to assume more public pretence of virtue than ever. He and his colleague, Bull, declared that, during their term of office, no military should attend the executions at Newgate, that being a most unconstitutional innovation. They threw open the doors and galleries of the Old Bailey during sessions gratis, and even denounced the use of French wines by the lord mayor at his banquets as unpatriotic.

On the 21st of January, 1772, the king opened parliament. Amongst the most important motions brought forward, was one by alderman Sawbridge, on the,23rd of January, for shortening the duration of parliaments, which, of course, produced no result. On the 24th, sir William Meredith made another, of equal or greater importance, namely, that no bill, or clause of any bill, decreeing capital punishments, should pass the house without having first been submitted to a committee of the whole house. The statute book of the reign of. the moral George III. was a perfectly Draconian one. The punishment of death was affixed to the most surprisingly trivial offences - the stealing of a sheep, or of a yard of calico, was death by the law. Sir William observed that, so common was the penalty of death, that scarcely a bill passed the house on the most commonplace matter that did not include menaces against human life. That a member, once hearing 'the word " death," asked what it meant, and was told that it was only part of a new inclosure bill!

The king's speech on the opening of the session was extremely pacific, and the addresses abounded with praises of the king's wisdom in saving us from a war on account of the Falkland Islands; but these peaceful expressions were soon followed by demands for an addition to our navy, on account of a Russian fleet having appeared in the Levant; of the French having again felt disposed to attempt the recovery of their East India possessions; and as a better safeguard of our West India Islands. This took the house by surprise. Admirals Saunders and Keppel, instead of encouraging the vote for twenty-five thousand men, including six thousand six hundred and sixty-four marines, both strongly opposed it. They declared that our last peace establishment was only nine thousand seven hundred and twenty men altogether, whilst we now demanded upwards of six thousand marines alone; that we were in a time of peace really asking for a war establishment. They declared that we had better be at war at once; and that the keeping of so many ill- conditioned ships in our ports was only to enable the first lords of the treasury to manage and corrupt maritime boroughs.

Captain Phipps, afterwards lord Mulgrave, said that he knew that ten guard ships had been sinecures; and colonel Barre spoke in his usual unsparing style; exposed the inconsistency of our first introducing the Russian fleet into the Mediterranean, and then demanding fresh ships and sailors to prevent them doing mischief there. " We have done something," he said, "of very great moment. There is an event which has astonished the world! We have seen the frigates of Russia in the centre of the Archipelago. The assistance of England, the supplies of our dockyards, helped to carry them thither, and to effect their mighty purpose. Have you well weighed the nature of this good office? Have you considered it to the bottom? "

Barre said that, in gaining the friendship of the Czarina, they had made mortal enemies of the Ottoman Porte. In fact, the English government had been doing the work of weakening the Turkish empire for the advantage of Russia, for which we, in our day, have paid the penalty of the Crimean war. Barre also more than hinted at the conduct of Russia and Prussia - asserting that they were brooding over some mischievous design, which, in truth, was the dismemberment of Poland.

The feeble statesmen of these days did not perceive the tendency of events towards Russian and Prussian aggrandisement, and their destruction of the balance of power, for which we had spent so much life and money; they were helping on that catastrophe to the best of their abilities. They had been taken with a wonderful fancy for the friendship of Russia, and for security in the Baltic at her hands were ready to surrender security everywhere else. Russia was at war with Turkey - at war for the very purpose of seizing as much of her territory as possible; and we were ready to help her in the conquest of this very Crimea, which was so fatal to our fellow-countrymen, and so costly to our treasury in later years.

Catherine II. pursuing her war with the Turks, a scheme was laid before her paramour and great counsellor, Gregory Orloff, by one Papaz Ogli, from Larissa, formerly a companion in arms of his brother, Alexis Orloff, to excite an insurrection in Greece against Turkey. A fleet was fitted out, and put under the command of Alexis Orloff, to assist, by sea, the revolted Greeks on land. This fleet, which was, in reality, commanded by English officers - Elphinstone, Greig, Dugdale, and others - wintered in Port Mahon, and, in the spring of 1770, made for the Grecian coast. But the insurrection excited by Russia in Greece had failed. They had marched much too feeble an army thither to support it. The peasants of the neighbourhood of Mistra, the ancient Sparta, who were enrolled in two regiments, broke forth and committed great atrocities, avenging themselves of the long-endured barbarities of the Turks; but the Albanians marched down from their mountains in great numbers, overran the Peloponnesus, and cut down and massacred the Greeks in all their towns and villages. Patras and Tripolizza were especially the scenes of havoc and slaughter. In Tripolizza alone three thousand Greeks, of all ages and both sexes, were destroyed. The united host of Russians, Mainotes, and Montenegrins, were incapable of resisting them. The Albanians glutted their lust of murder and plunder on the unhappy Greeks without restraint. Whole districts of the Peloponnesus were reduced to deserts and strewn with corpses. The inhabitants who had not fallen had fled into the mountains; such was the condition of horror to which Russia had reduced Greece by her lawless ambition.

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