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

The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 27

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 <27> 28

The trial of Sir Charles Wolseley and Dr. Harrison for their speeches at the meeting for reform at Stockport in July, 1819, terminated also in their conviction and imprisonment for eighteen months, as well as the giving security for their future behaviour on liberation.

With these inglorious events closed the long reign of George III. Indeed, he had passed away before they were brought to their conclusion. He died on the 29th of January, 1820, in the eighty-second year of his age, and the sixtieth of his reign. Only six days previously had died his fourth son, the duke of Kent, in his fifty-third year. But the duke had not departed without leaving an heir to the throne in the princess Victoria, who was born on the 24th of May, 1819. Could the old king have been made sensible of these events, there were others which showed that his line, which of late had appeared likely to die out in one generation, notwithstanding his numerous family, was again giving signs of perpetuation. On the 26th of March, 1819, a son had also been born to the duke of Cambridge, and a son to the duke of Cumberland on May 27th of the same year, afterwards king of Hanover.

George III. thus terminated the longest reign of any British sovereign, and at the same time infinitely the most eventful. Reckoning his reign at only fifty-nine full years, he reigned longer than Henry III. by three years, and Edward III. by eight years. Both those reigns were eventful ones: in one the great charter, our true Magna Charta, was granted; in the other were made great conquests in France and Scotland; but these sink into comparative insignificance when compared with the transactions of the reign of George III.

George III. stood at the head of his kingdom in a very différent Europe to that which existed under those or any other monarchs. Europe had grown populous, far more civilised, and powerful. He succeeded to a throne which not only swayed the destinies of these islands, but of immensely vaster lands in both hemispheres and under every zone. To the west he stretched his sceptre over nearly the whole of North America, over the greater part of the West Indian Islands; to the east, over a large tract of India, and of Australia, then unpeopled by the white man. He soon found himself involved in a dispute, regarding taxation without representation, with his American colonies, and not understanding the true principles of colonial tenure, he engaged in a war of compulsion, and lost them. Little could he at first perceive how small was the real loss, by the withdrawal of their allegiance by a restless and vain people; that the true benefit of colonies resides in the commerce which must necessarily spring up between peoples of kindred origin, and amply furnished with the materials of mercantile exchange. Still less could he imagine that, within the short space of seventy-eight years, this same people, who had so virulently abused him as a tyrant for endeavouring to compel them to remain in union with England, would be themselves exercising the same tyranny to compel the southern states of that continent to remain in union with them; that having proclaimed the right of every people to secede from a State when they felt aggrieved by its policy, they would be engaged in a fratricidal war in résistance to their own principle.

Scarcely freed from this unhappy contest by the lopping away of a great empire, George III. found himself plunged, by the fatal policy of his ministers, into a far greater war - that of endeavouring to reseat on the throne of France a monarch rejected by the French people; and afterwards to put down the most extraordinary conqueror who had appeared for many ages, and who had hurled down all the monarchs of the continent as so many lifeless figures, and stood encircled with enormous armies, the avowed sovereign of a large part of Europe, and the real ruler of the destinies of nearly the whole. It was the extraordinary idea of these ministers that it was the business of England to fight the battles of these foreign sovereigns; that about thirty millions of British people should undertake to champion some hundreds of millions of continental people, as unable to take care of themselves. For this purpose the energies of this nation were stretched to the utmost, and the tide of its wealth was made to flow for twenty years over the whole world. Our ministers fought, and taxed posterity to pay the most enormous sums in this unequal and uncalled-for strife; and so long as George III. retained his faculties he followed sturdily the leading of his advisers. In the midst of the affray his mind sank into the darkness of insanity. His eyes were also shut up in physical darkness, and he remained an unconscious maniac whilst the world was shaken by wars and rumours of wars, and whilst his ministers, more maniacal than himself, were mortgaging the property and the daily earnings of unborn generations, to fight the battles of the world. In this quixotic war our government is calculated to have spent directly in money two thousand seven hundred arid sixty million pounds Sterling. They found the national debt two hundred and twenty million pounds, and left it eight hundred million pounds. The burden of this formidable sum many a generation of Englishmen must yet bear. And for what benefit to others? To enable despotic monarchs to maintain their iron sway over their indignant peoples.

Yet these great perpetrations of governmental ignorance, committed under the rule, and, so long as he was a reason- able agent, with the full approval of George III., have taught this generation great truths - one, that colonies may be retained by liberality and not by force; and another, that foreign wars belong only to foreign nations. On these points our present government have proclaimed the national doctrine, and have acted upon it in several cases. And whilst we condemn the folly of the government of George III., we must, at the same time, do justice to the quixotic magnanimity of that government, and to the bravery of the people. They played a great and generous part, if not a wise one as regarded their own people, or a just one as regarded posterity. In no age of our history did the military and naval talents and spirit of the nation rise into more imposing splendour. Not the victories of Drake and Blake, not the fields of Agincourt and Cressy, of Blenheim or Ramillies, could equal in terrible bravery the more sanguinary ones of the Spanish peninsula, or of Waterloo. Never was our naval or our military credit so low as at the conclusion of the American war. All nations exulted over us, and thought that the star of England's glory had gone down for ever. But, with new and more arduous occasion, that credit and that star rose again into heights never before reached; a Nelson and a Wellington far more than outdid all past glories, and the kingdom put forth a strength and a wealth which Struck the world with amazement. We no: only conquered by our own troops, but we poured out millions on millions of money, which tipped with power and victory the banners of a dozen other nations. Our gold kept on the march the myriad armies from the frozen regions of Siberia to the southernmost part of Spain. Our fleets were in all regions, and made prey of lands and islands everywhere.

When, in 1814, George III. awoke to a momentary con- sciousness, he was told that the tremendous war was at an end; that the great enemy was hunted down, and caged at Elba; that the allied sovereigns were then in London, being feted by his son, the regent. When he sank at length in death, he yielded the sceptre of a far mightier empire to his son than he had himself received. In Canada, in the immensely extended territory of British India, at the Cape, over a hundred spicy isles in western and southern seas, and over broad Australia, stretched the wondrous rule of England. Australia, planted as a mere penal settlement, as a depot of felons whom we wished to remove as far as possible from us - Australia, intended only as a Substitute for the lost convict lands of Kentucky and Maryland - was already putting forth germs of promise beyond conception, and bidding fair to be to us greater, more loyal, and more enriching than America.

Whilst George III. had been sitting in darkness and in intellectual alienation, the - empire over which he had nominally ruled had been growing in other and more essential directions. Mind, and the leaven of better principles, were at work, and must in the end leaven the whole mass. The government itself retained faithfully the impress which he had stamped upon it, though he had ceased to influence it directly. The mind of George, though essentially honest, was narrow and stubborn. His education had been defective, and, though religious ideas had been infused into his soul, they were not the broad and liberal principles of the Christian creed, which necessarily tend to the freedom of the race. George piously wished that every man and woman in his kingdom should have a Bible, but he had no conception of the revolution which that most equalising and enfranchising of volumes must produce when fully and freely studied. He saw no further than he had been taught, and sincerely trusted that piety and obedience to church and state were synonymous; he neither knew the depth of those principles, which lay as yet undeveloped to the popular mind, in the gospel, nor the infinitely higher order of government which must spring up with the clearer comprehension of Christ's words, that it shall not be amongst his disciples as it was amongst the Gentiles, where the kings of the earth exercised lordship over their subjects; this unrestrained lordship should be tempered by the law of the brotherhood of man. King Alfred, a thousand years before, had comprehended this when he said, in his will, " It is fitting that Englishmen should be free as the air they breathe." But Alfred was a great soul; George III. was an honest soul merely, of small calibre, brought up amid all the proud assumptions of a government, taught not directly from the Bible, as Alfred was, but from a state hierarchy. Therefore, George III. could not comprehend the right of America to resist arbitrary taxation; he could as little comprehend the right of his subjects to have full freedom of conscience, but opposed doggedly the emancipation of the catholics, on account of their creed. To all other reforms he was equally hostile, and his government and his son had, to the hour of his death, rigidly maintained the same principles of rule. They had, as we have seen, done their best to destroy the freedom of the press, the freedom of speech, and the right to assemble and petition for redress of grievances; they had turned loose the soldiery on the people exercising this right, and had armed the magistracy - many members of it extremely ignorant and self-willed, especially in the country - with full powers to seize on any person whom they pleased to suspect of free ideas, and, having shut them down in prison, had suspended the habeas corpus act, to keep them there, without a hearing, during their pleasure.

Never in the history of England, since the days of the Stuarts, had there been so determined an attempt to crush the national liberties as towards the end of this reign. But as the darkest and coldest hour of the night is that just preceding the dawn, so, in the midst of this harsh period of rule, there was springing the indomitable spirit of liberty under the rib of that death. This spirit was strong in the people, and there were not wanting champions of it amongst the higher classes. Besides such brawny leaders as Cobbett, arising out of the popular mass, there were lords Grey, Lansdowne, Holland, Cochrane, Russell, Sir Francis Burdett, Mr. Lambton, afterwards lord Durham, major Cartwright, Tierney, Brougham, and many others, bravely advocating liberal reforms.

The same reluctance had always marked the mind of George III. to reform the penal code as to reform political abuses. During his period of sanity he continued to behold unmoved the frightful ferocity of the criminal code, and to sign, unshudderingly, death-warrants for men and women, some of the latter with children in their arms, for the theft of a sheep or of a few yards of calico. It is, at this time of day, almost incredible with what a stern, unrelenting regularity the gallows dispatched hundreds and thousands of persons, who would now scarcely receive a three months' imprisonment. This characteristic of our government continued when the king could no longer influence it; but then, too, was a more merciful spirit at work in the public mind, and Sir Samuel Romilly and Sir James Mackintosh, in the last days of this reign, inaugurated a milder system, which has proved sufficient to meet the ends of justice.

The same darkness and apathy existed on the subject of education. The great bulk of the people during the Georgian period were almost wholly unable to read; but the reaction had also taken place in this department. Bell and Lancaster had roused a new spirit, and Raikes and Stock had instituted the mighty machinery of Sunday schools. Steam was already on lake, river, and ocean, through the discoveries of Miller of Dalswinton, of Fulton of America, and of Watt; and Thomas Gray was already calling in government aid further to put it in action by railroads on land. Not only was knowledge awaking, but the means of spreading it rapidly as fast as it received consciousness. Whilst royalty sate in emblematic darkness the people were breaking into light and power by the efforts of genius born amongst them. The manufacturing power of England was made gigantic by the inventions of Arkwright, Crompton, Watt, and the engineering skill of Smeaton, Brindley, Telford, and others. It was the hour of darkness in high places, and of progression in lowly ones. Government was brooding over stagnation at the very moment that the nation itself was putting forth evidences of vigour and action of all kinds.

Such was the reign of George III., in itself stern and conservative, but, by the force of long accumulating causes, the very starting point of a new era, the birth-time of new politics, new legislation, new literature, new industrial arts, and general progress. As for the old king, he was but a type of a departing time - blind and ungenial, and mad with the quixotism of standing the champion of all the kings of the earth, without taking from them one guarantee for popular liberty - of being the paymaster of Europe, and, as it were, the Atlas of the world's debts. But as he had long lived on, though sightless and effete, as a ruler, so the system of things was growing old with him, and had already lost its real vitality - it was moving only from the impetus of past causes. Beneath the palace, the prison-house of overstrained prerogative - beneath the houses of parliament, the strongholds of aristocratic domination - beneath the magistracy, the depositories of antiquated notions of subserviency to governmental bureaus, and of suspicion of the people, the ground was everywhere heaving with new forms of life and new growths of energy. The dry bones of all former down-trodden generations, scattered over the battle- plains of despotism, and over the low and despised Valleys of poverty's life, seemed to be clothing themselves with new flesh, and lifting up faces towards the heavens full of the consciousness of a descent thence, and kinship there, and with eyes full of all sorts of new meanings, new conceptions, new hopes and aspirations, and the capacity for unimagined things.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 <27> 28

Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 27

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About