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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.)


Burke's Motion for Economical Reform - The Pension List - Defended by Lord Nugent - Duels of Fox and Lord Shelburne - Bills to disqualify Revenue Officers and Contractors - Meeting in Westminster - Dunning's Motion to reduce the Influence of the Crown - These neutralised - Protestant Associations - The Gordon Riots - Burning of Catholic Chapels - Newgate burnt - Other Prisons broken open - Lord Mansfield's House ransacked - Attempts on the Bank of England - Thirty-six Conflagrations at Night- Lord George Gordon arrested - Burke and North in concert - Special Commission - Rodney defeats Don Juan de Langara - Relieves Gibraltar - Resentment of the Empress Catherine - Campaign in North America - Capture of Charlestown - Action at Wax-haws - Cornwallis and Lord Rawdon - Battle of Camden - Surprise at King's Mountain - La Fayette's Return - Count Rochambeau - French Fleet blockaded - American Headquarters - Career of General Arnold - Major Andre meets him - Andre arrested - Escape of Arnold - Andre hanged as a Spy - Offers to the Opposition in England - Dissolution of Parliament - Pitt and Grenville - Secret Overtures for Peace by Necker - War with Holland - Erskine's Defence of Captain Baillie, Admiral Keppel, and Lord George Gordon- First Speech of Sheridan - Pitt's rising fame - French Descent of Jersey - French and Spaniards in Minorca - Descent upon Virginia - Mutiny amongst the American Troops - Campaign in the Carolinas - Action at Cow-pens - Battle of Guildford - Campaign in Virginia - Retreat of La Fayette - Action at Hobkirk's Hill - Case of Colonel Hayne - Battle at Eutaw Springs - Expedition to Connecticut - Quarrel of Clinton and Cornwallis - French Fleet in the Chesapeake - Washington's Conference with De Grasse - Cornwallis besieged in York Town - His Surrender.
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When parliament re-assembled, after the Christmas recess, the great question of economical reform took the first place in its deliberations. The great Yorkshire petition was introduced on the 8th of February by Sir George Saville, who, as the forms of the house then allowed, made a speech on its presentation. He was a small, weakly man, but of the most upright character, and was listened to with the highest respect. On the 11th Burke rose to bring forward his extensive schemes of retrenchment and reform. Those who have witnessed the long series of arduous campaigns on these subjects, and the vast amount of the labour which, nearly a century later, still remains to be done, must smile at the very Quixotish air of Burke's attempt. It was no less than a scheme of reforms so vast and multiform as to require five bills to include them. It went to the sale of the crown lands; the abolition of the separate jurisdictions of the principality of Wales, the duchies of Cornwall, Chester, and Lancaster; of the court offices of treasurer, comptroller, cofferer, keeper of the stag, buck, and fox hounds, of the wardrobe, robes, jewels, &c.; of the recently-instituted office of third secretary of state; the reduction and simplification of offices in the ordnance and mint departments; of the patent office of the exchequer; the regulation of the pay offices of the army, navy, and of pensioners; and, finally, of the civil list.

Such a host of corrupt interests was assailed by this wholesale scheme that it was certain to receive a most determined opposition; and it might have been supposed that it would be encountered by the most rabid rage. But not so. The great tribe whose interests were affected were too adroit strategists for that; they were too well assured that, being legion, and all knit up together from the crown downwards, embracing every branch of the aristocracy, they were safe, and might, therefore, listen to the fervid eloquence of the poetic Irishman, as they would to a tragedy that did not affect them, further than their amusement was concerned. All parties, therefore, professed a singular delight in listening to the exposure of their selfish gnawings of the very vitals of the country. Not only did the reformer, Dunning, declare that Burke's opening speech "must remain as a monument to be handed down to posterity of his uncommon, unrivalled industry, astonishing abilities, and invincible perseverance;" but lord North, on hearing Burke assert that, "as things now stand, every man, in proportion to his consequence at court, tried to add to the expense of the civil list, by all manner of jobs, if not for himself, yet for his dependents," eulogised the speech " as one of the ablest he had ever heard; a speech such as no other member could have made." He was in raptures with it, and so were crowds of the grossest corruptionists, just as a lazy man, on a hot day, is pleased with the tickling of a straw. Even Gibbon, who lost his salary of eight hundred a-year, as a commissioner of the board of trade, by the sole piece of retrenchment that Burke accomplished, suffered the amputation under the spell of Burke's oratory, just as a man now loses a leg under the influence of chloroform, and imagines all the time that he is making a delightful walking tour through enchanting scenery. "I can never forget," he says, "the delight with which that diffusive and ingenious orator was heard on all sides of the house, even by those whose existence he proscribed."

Burke's style of eloquence was, in fact, as different as possible to parliamentary oratory of the present time. It was as diffuse and full of descriptive and imaginative flights as a romance. With its ornaments and its whole landscapes ©f flowers, no wonder that the listeners forget the real business of the speaker, who would be heard with amazement by our mere matter-of-fact senators now. Even at that day his speeches of three or four hours in length thinned the house on many occasions. As a specimen of his style on this occasion, we may quote a passage in which he could not allude to the retention of worn-out customs without advancing into a rhetorical description of our palaces, the desolate haunts of jobbery: - " When the reason of old establishments is gone, it is absurd to preserve nothing but the burthens of them. This is superstitiously to embalm the carcass, not worth an ounce of the gums that are used to preserve it. It is to burn precious oils in the tomb; it is to offer meat and drink to the dead, not so much an honour to the deceased as a disgrace to the survivors. Our palaces are vast inhospitable halls; there the bleak winds - there "Boreas and Eurus and Caurus and Argestes loud," howling through the vacant lobbies, and clattering the doors of deserted guard-rooms, appal the imagination, and conjure up the grim spectres of departed tyrants - the Saxon, the Norman, and the Dane - the stern Edwards and fierce Henries - who stalk from desolation to desolation through the dreary vacuity and melancholy succession of chill and comfortless chambers. When this tumult subsides, a dead and still more frightful silence would reign in the desert if every now and then the tacking of hammers did not announce that those constant attendants on all courts, in all ages, jobs, were still alive; for whose sake alone it is that any trace of ancient grandeur is suffered to remain. These palaces are a true emblem of some governments: the inhabitants are decayed, but the governors and magistrates still flourish. They put me in mind of Old Sarum, where the representatives, more in number than the constituents, only serve to inform us that this was once a place of trade, and sounding with the busy hum of man, though now you can only trace the streets by the colour of the corn, and its sole manufacture is in members of parliament."

In the same luxuriantly-imaginative style, he is not content to tell you that the duchies of Lancaster, &c., are cumbrous antiquities, better swept away, but he thus picturesquely embellishes the very fact: - "Ours is not a monarchy in strictness, but, as in the Saxon times, this country was a heptarchy, so now it is a strange sort of pentarchy. Cross a brook, and you lose the king of England; but you have some comfort in coming again under his majesty, though shorn of his beams, and no more than prince of Wales. Go to the north, and you find him dwindled to a duke of Lancaster; turn to the west of that north, and he pops upon you in the humble character of the earl of Chester. Travel a few miles on, the earl of Chester disappears, and the king surprises you again as count palatine of Lancaster. If you travel beyond Mount Edgecombe, you will find him once more in his incognito, and he is duke of Cornwall. So that, quite fatigued and satiated with this dull variety, you are infinitely refreshed when you return to the sphere of his proper splendour, and behold your amiable sovereign in his true, simple, undisguised character of majesty."

Lord North, with all his admiration of Burke's speech, very soon managed to put the principality and the duchies out of the range of his inquiries. He declared that nobody was more zealous for a permanent system of economy than he was; but then, unfortunately, the king's patrimonial revenue was concerned in these duchies, and therefore he must be first consulted; and, what was still more embarrassing was, that these proposals affected the rights of the prince of Wales, and therefore could not be mooted till he was of age; so that branch of the inquiry was lopped off, under the gentle phrase of postponement.

When the discussion reached the reform of the king's household, Burke was compelled to admit that a former attempt to reform this lavish yet penurious household by lord Talbot, had been suddenly stopped, because, forsooth, it would endanger the situation of an honourable member who was turnspit in the kitchen! That his lordship, observing the lavish expense of the king's kitchen, had reduced several tables, and put the persons entitled to them on board wages; but, as the duties of these persons had to be performed, they continued still to live where they were employed, and the only result was that the expense was doubled! The end of it was, that though all expressed themselves as delighted and as acquiescent, almost every detail was thrown out in committee. The only point carried was that which, as we have said, abolished the Board of Trade, by a majority, however, of only eight. By this Gibbon lost his post as a commissioner, and Cumberland, the dramatist, that of secretary to the board. Gibbon's income being but small, he retired to Lausanne in Switzerland, where he completed his great work, " The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." The Board of Trade was ere long restored again. The other portions of Burke's great scheme occupied the house through March, April, and May, and then was got rid of by a manoeuvre in the committee, Burke declaring he would bring the measure forward again next session.

In the meantime, lord Shelburne had introduced his promised motion for a commission of accounts. This was to consist of members of both houses, who were neither in office ner possessed pensions. They were to examine the public expenditure; to inquire into the grant of all contracts, and their execution; and to consider what retrenchments could be made consistent with the public dignity and justice by abolishing useless offices. Lord Shelburne said that his object was not to weaken the proper administration of the government, but to increase it, by cutting off all these drains upon the public money, which, through undue influences operating on the two houses, had fastened themselves on the country, and were sapping its honour and its strength. He showed the salutary effect of such committees in former reigns. He was ably supported by the earl of Coventry and the duke of Grafton, who drew in melancholy colours the condition of the country; but he was boldly contradicted by the young earl of Chesterfield and by lord Mansfield and the chancellor Thurlow, who resorted to the usual cry, that there would be a violation of the constitution, the constitution being the most convenient of all words when there is any attack contemplated on the diseases and polypi of the constitution. The motion was negatived by one hundred and one votes against fifty-five.

But the subject was not so easily disposed of. Colonel Barre, in the house of commons, only three days after Burke introduced his great motion, declared that Burke's measure did not go far enough; that Burke did not mean to interfere with the enormous pensions and overpaid places already in possession; and that he would himself introduce a motion for a committee of accounts, to probe all these depths of corruption, and to examine into the army extravagancies, which were excessive, and to him unaccountable. Lord North, so far from opposing this motion, declared his surprise that no one had thought of introducing it before. That he was extremely anxious himself for the reduction of all needless expenditure. The opposition expressed their particular satisfaction; but they were rather too precipitate, for North, with a trickiness disgraceful in a British minister, made haste to get the business into his own hands; and, on the 2nd of March, was ready with a bill of his own framing. The opposition were lost in astonishment; and Barre denounced this perfidious conduct in the minister in terms of a just indignation. The whole opposition, who found themselves impudently outwitted, declared that the scheme, so far from being intended to relieve the country, was meant to shield all the existing abuses, and they accordingly resisted it to the utmost.

North, however, by his standing majority of myrmidons» carried the bill through the house; and Sir Guy Carleton, late governor of Canada, and five others, were appointed commissioners. Thus the whole motion was in reality shelved.

Sir George Saville moved, that at least the names of all pensioners for life, and of all places held by patents, should be laid before the house; but North rushed to the rescue of those tender scions of aristocracy, who were hardy enough to solicit any amount of emolument in places or pensions, but too susceptible to be told of it. He said, " To expose the necessities of ancient and noble families to the prying eye of malignant curiosity; to hold up the man who has a pension, to the envy and detraction of him who hates him, because he has none; to prepare a feast for party writers, and furnish materials for magazines and newspapers, which would magnify and misrepresent every circumstance: these are the bad effects; but I know of no good ones that could result from such indiscriminate exposure, since the civil list money was granted freely, and without restriction or control, to the person of the king."

This was the kind of language by which, for a century, the most shameful grants of the public money to people who had never rendered, and never could render, the smallest service in return, was defended. True, the civil list was granted to the king, and, had he confined his expenses within it, the country would have been silent. But George was continually coming to the parliament for augmentations, and payment of debts, for the very purpose of feeding all these aristocratic incubi. North, who was at the same time losing America, and thus throwing the resources of the country to those who enabled him to keep his place and effect this ruin, was supported by Dundas, the lord advocate, and Wedderburn, the attorney-general, in artful speeches. Barre, justly provoked at the advocacy of corruption by these two Scotchmen, exclaimed, "That not a single Englishman dared to stand forth in defence of the minister, that he had only two Scots!" This remark excited the nationality of the Scottish members, and there was a great uproar. Lord Nugent, though an aristocrat himself, could not help exclaiming, cynically, "There would be many lady Bridgets, lady Marys, and lady Jennys, who would be much hurt at hearing their names entered on the proceedings of the house as pensioners of the state." North moved an amendment, that the resolution should be restricted to such pensions only as were paid at the Exchequer, thus exempting those upon the civil list, and this he carried at one o'clock in the morning, though only by a majority of two. A similar motion was, on the 10th of March, introduced into the house of peers by the earl of Effingham, which was promptly negatived. In that debate, a great exposure was made of the pauperised condition of the Scottish peerage, the members of which almost entirely, with a vast tribe of their needy relations, hung on place and the pension list like a whole hive of bees at a swarming.

The rancour which these revelations of the hordes of high-bred parasites who were battening on the strength of the country excited, became so intense that duels grew into fashion. Mr. Fox had had to fight his man, and now lord Shelburne was called out. He had proposed an address to his majesty to inquire whether he had been pleased to dismiss two lord-lieutenants of counties on account of their conduct in parliament, and in his speech had commented strongly on a regiment having been given to a Mr. Fullarton, the member for Plympton, who was a civilian, and had been secretary to the late lord Stormont, at Paris. Lord Shelburne had therefore styled him a commis, or mere clerk. For this, and for saying that men thus appointed - not for their fitness, but their subservience - would be as ready to lead their regiments against the people as against their enemies, Fullarton challenged Shelburne, and severely wounded him. The affair, coupled with that of Mr. Fox, excited a great sensation, both in and out of parliament. Sir James Lowther said, in the commons, that such practices would soon reduce the English parliament to the level of a Polish diet; but it was replied that a few such correctives would teach gentlemen to speak with better manners. Not a word was uttered as to the folly and wickedness of duelling in general; the day when that light should dawn upon the Christian mind was yet far off.

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