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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 5


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The year 1812 opened, in England, by the assembling of parliament on the 7th of January. The speech of the regent was again delivered by commission. The great topic was the success of the war in Spain, under lord Wellington, whose military talents were highly praised. There was a reference also to the disagreements with America, and the difficulty of Coming to any amicable arrangement with the United States. Lords Grey and Grenville - in the debate in the peers on the address - pronounced sweeping censures on the continuance of the war with France, and on the policy of ministers towards America, from which source they prognosticated great disasters. In the commons, the opposition used similar language; and Sir Francis Burdett took a very gloomy view of our relations both with France and North America, and declared that we could anticipate no better policy until we had made sweeping reforms in our representative system.

Another topic of the speech was the mental derangement of the king, which was now asserted, on the authority of the physicians, to be more hopeless; and Mr. Perceval argued, therefore, the necessity of arranging the royal household so as to meet the necessarily increased expenditure. Resolutions were passed granting an addition of seventy thousand pounds per annum to the queen towards such augmented expenditure, and to provide further income for the prince regent. Two courts were to be maintained, and the regent was to retain his revenue as prince of Wales. The civil list chargeable with the additional seventy thousand pounds to the queen was vested in the regent; and no sooner were these particulars agreed to than he sent letters to both houses, recommending separate provision for his sisters; so that the civil list was at once to be relieved of their maintenance and yet increased, simply on account of the charge of a poor blind and insane old man, who could require very little but a trusty keeper or two. The separate incomes agreed to for the princesses was nine thousand pounds a-year each, exclusive of the four thousand pounds a-year each already derived from the civil list - so that there required an annual additional sum of thirty-six thousand pounds for the four princesses, besides the sixteen thousand pounds a-year now being received by them. Some members observed, that the grant to the regent, being retrospective, removed altogether the merit of his declaration during the last session of parliament - that, " considering the unexampled contest in which the kingdom was now engaged, he would receive no addition to his income." In fact, little consideration was shown by any part of the royal family for the country under its enormous demands. It was understood that there was again a deficiency in the civil list, which would have to be made up.

Mr. Bankes again introduced his bill - which was about to expire - for prohibiting the grant of offices in reversion; and he endeavoured again to make it permanent, but, as before, he was defeated on the second reading in the commons. He then brought in a bill confined to two years only, and this, as before, was allowed to pass both houses. Great discussion arose on the grant of the office of paymaster of widows' pensions to colonel MacMahon, the confidential servant of the prince regent. This was a mere sinecure, which had been held by general Fox, the brother of the late Charles James Fox; and it had been recommended that, on the general's death, it should be abolished; but ministers - more ready to please the regent than to reduce expenditure - had, immediately on the general's decease, granted it to colonel MacMahon. Ministers met the just complaints of the opposition by praising the virtues and ability of MacMahon - as if it required any ability or any virtue to hold a good sinecure! But there was virtue enough in the commons to refuse to grant the amount of the salary, Mr. Bankes carrying a resolution against it. But ministers had their remedy. The prince immediately appointed MacMahon his private secretary, and a salary of two thousand pounds was moved for. But Mr. Wynne declared that any such office was unknown to the country - that no regent or king, down to George III., and he only when he became blind, had a private secretary; that the secretary of state was the royal secretary. Ministers replied that there was now a great increase of public business, and that a private secretary for the regent was not unreasonable; but they thought it most prudent not to press the salary, but to leave it to be paid out of the regent's privy purse.

Mr. Bankes pressed his advantages, and brought in a bill to abolish many sinecure places, and - to the astonishment of everybody - carried it. This was followed by Mr. Creevey, three days after, on the 7th of May, recommending great savings instead of small ones. He called the attention of the house to the tellerships of the exchequer, of which there were four; and the two chief ones - being held by the marquis of Buckingham and lord Camden - had risen, with the rising expenditure, from two thousand seven hundred pounds each to twenty-three thousand pounds each. These offices were the most impudent of sinecures, the chief and almost only duties of which being the receipt of a per-centage on all issues of money from the exchequer for the services of the state. There was a per-centage of two-and-a-half on all pensions and annuities; but the annuities lately granted to the four princesses were exempt. And now came a very edifying proof of the truth and earnestness of reformers! Numbers of them turned round, voted with ministers against the abolition of these scandalous offices, and the motion was rejected. Thus, the monies voted for public purposes were to be still drained off by these side channels into private pockets; and the pockets of many loud, blatant reformers stood as eagerly gaping for such corruptions as those of the most corrupt placemen. What made the conservation of these scandalous places the more desirable in the eyes of the whig opposition was, that they were considered to be vested rights, and beyond the reach of parliamentary interference. The great possessors of these fat things were the Grenvilles, who, during their long term of office, had loaded themselves with these good things to an unexampled extent. Their cry was " Patriotism! " - their practice was selfism and nepotism. One of these tellers, the marquis of Buckingham, was the Mr. George Grenville of former times, who had so disastrously involved us with the American colonies; and this grant might be considered as his reward for the loss of America. He was the uncle of lord Grenville, who himself held the profitable auditorship of the treasury for life. He cried out amain that the motion was aimed directly at his family; and so it was - by the very circumstance of his family being the recipients of these monstrous sinecures. He asked whether they meant to destroy the whig aristocracy? - and if their ruin had depended on being stripped of this shamefully appropriated wealth of the nation, they ought to have been ruined. The light, however, let in on this odious scene of corruption had its effect. In November the two chief tellers announced to the chancellor of the exchequer that, from the 5th of January next, they intended to renounce one-third of their salaries and fees. The marquis of Buckingham died in February of that year, and the marquis of Camden, in 1814, voluntarily resigned his enormous per-centage, reserving only his salary of two thousand seven hundred pounds. Amongst those who voted for the reduction of these exorbitant emoluments were Whitbread, general Fergusson, lord Tavistock, lord Archibald Hamilton, and Henry Brougham.

Another gleam of light was let in upon another similar robbery of the public. In June of this year Mr. Henry Martin brought in a bill to regulate the office of registrar of the admiralty and prize courts. This office was held for life by lord Arden, having been conferred on him when his father was first lord of the admiralty. After his death it was granted, in reversion, to the brother of lord Arden - namely, Mr. Perceval, the minister. As an example how tender such men are of hurting themselves, Perceval, in 1810, brought in a bill to regulate this office. Some reduction in its emoluments were, by this bill, to take place, but not till after the death of both lord Arden and Mr. Perceval. Mr. Martin's bill was to make an immediate reduction, and it was heartily opposed by all the crown lawyers. Sir Samuel Romilly, however, supported the bill, declaring that the reductions provided for by Perceval's bill - when they should, at some later day, arrive - would not at all relieve the suitors in those courts, because the fees were to be maintained, and two-thirds of them would go to the state. It appeared, by the present system, as much as two hundred thousand pounds at a time were lying in the hands of the registrar, with which he traded to his own emolument, and to the proportionate delay and damage to the claimants. Possibly there has been in our own time some such practice in the prize court, which delayed the payment of the Delhi prize money fully four years. It was shown that lord Arden, besides an income of twelve thousand pounds a-year from fees, had made seven thousand pounds a-year more by interest and profits on suitors' money. Yet this very necessary bill was thrown out, and this crying iniquity perpetuated by a house of commons.

On the 19th of February the marquis of Wellesley resigned his office of secretary of foreign affairs. He did not approve of the employment of some of his colleagues, and the prince regent now showed that he had no intention of dismissing the present administration. He proposed to lords Grey and Grenville to join it. but they absolutely declined, knowing that, -with the difference of the views of the two parties on many essential questions, especially on those of the catholic claims, of the prosecution of the war, and of our relations with America, it was impossible for any coalition cabinet to go on. Lord Castlereagh succeeded the marquis of Wellesley in the foreign office, but on the 11th of May a fatal event put an end to the ministry and the life of Spencer Perceval.

On the afternoon of this day, Monday, the 11th of May, as the minister was entering the house, about five o'clock, a man of gentlemanly appearance presented a pistol, and shot him dead - at least, he did not survive two minutes. In the confusion and consternation the man might have escaped, but he made no such attempt; he walked up to the fireplace, laid down his pistol on a bench, and said, in answer to those inquiring after the murderer, that he was the person. He gave his name as Bellingham, expressed satisfaction at the deed, but said that he should have been more pleased had it been lord Leveson Gower. In fact, his prime intention was to shoot lord Gower, but he had also his resentment against Perceval, and therefore took the opportunity of securing one of his victims. It appeared that he had been a Liverpool merchant, trading to Russia, and that, during the embassage of lord Leveson Gower at St. Petersburg, he had suffered severe and, as lie deemed, unjust losses, for assistance in the redress of which with the Russian government he had in vain sought the good offices of the ambassador. On his return to England he had applied to Perceval; but that minister did not deem it a case in which government could interfere, and hence the exasperation of the unhappy man against both these diplomatists. The trial of the murderer came on at the Old Bailey, before chief justice Mansfield, on the Friday of the same week. A plea of insanity was put in by Bellingham's counsel, and a demand that the trial should be postponed till inquiries could be made at Liverpool as to his antecedents. But this plea, with the hard and unconceding spirit of the times, was overruled. Bellingham himself, as is the case with most madmen, indignantly rejected the idea of his being insane. He declared that the act was the consequence of a cool determination to punish the minister for the refusal of justice to him, and he again repeated, in the presence of lord Leveson Gower, that his chief object had been himself for his cruel disregard of his wrongs. Both lord Mansfield and the rest of the judges would hear of no delay a verdict of " wilful murder " was brought in by the jury, and they condemned him to be hanged, and he was hanged on the following Monday at nine o'clock, exactly the day week of the perpetration of the act. Such indecent haste, in a case where the government was concerned, and which looked, therefore, rather like vengeance than justice, could not occur at this time. The intelligence received from Liverpool determined, what might have been expected, that the man was, and had been for a long time, decidedly insane. It turned out that not only was he insane, but that there were plenty of proofs of the hereditary insanity of the family; that he had been confined for lunacy in Russia, and that his son, who, with the rest of the family, had changed his name, did not with that change the taint in his blood, but became utterly insane as he approached the age of his father, and was put under restraint. Yet such is the effect of the spirit of the age - and no age was ever more sanguinary in regard to capital punishment than that of George III. - that Sir Samuel Romilly, whose life was devoted to the amelioration of that Draconian code, and who was quite satisfied of Bellingham's insanity, thought that " it was a species of insanity which, for the security of mankind, ought not to exempt a man from being answerable for his actions" - as if confining a man for life did not equally secure mankind against him, or as if the execution of one madman could in the least degree operate as a deterrent on the mind of another madman!

Two days after the assassination, and while the full force of the catastrophe was on the public mind, lord Castlereagh delivered a message from the regent, requesting the authority of parliament to settle fifty thousand pounds on the children of Perceval, and two thousand pounds a-year on the widow of the deceased minister. This was carried at once, and not only this, but soon after another grant for a pension to Perceval's eldest son, and a monument to himself in Westminster Abbey.

Now, though Mr. Perceval was an able lawyer, and an amiable man in private life, we surely may ask the propriety of the commons voting away the public money in this lavish style. Where were the services which had merited them? Mr. Perceval had only held office about four years; he had been prime minister not two years and a half. During that time we are at a loss to discover a single circumstance in his administration which rose above the average routine of statesmen, and which, therefore, justified such rewards or a monument. How many poets, or philosophers, or scientific men might have conferred immortal benefits on their country at that time without receiving even thanks for them, or at most some paltry pension of two or three hundred a-year? Mr. Perceval was a disciple of Pitt, and had followed carefully in his war policy, and under such circumstances some provision for his widow was desirable from the nation, but surely on a very different scale. But then, Mr. Perceval was the son of the earl of Egmont, and brother of lord Arden, and closely connected with a party which had got hold of the purse-strings of the nation, and had well helped themselves, and were as ready to help their relatives; and for the mutually liberal distribution of the nation's wealth amongst those who have for generations immediately surrounded the treasury, we are now paying a large amount of taxation. It is the duty of honest historians to endeavour to impress on the public sentiment a just estimate of these things.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 5

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