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Accession of George IV page 2

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The general election was, on the whole, favourable to- the government; the forces of conservatism being roused into activity by the violent democratic tendencies of the times, and by the threats of revolution. The new parliament met on the 21st of April. Mr. Manners Sutton was re-elected speaker. A week was occupied in swearing in the members, and the session was opened on the 27th by a speech from the king, the vagueness of which gave no- ground for an amendment to the address in either house.

In the old roll of members one illustrious name was found, borne by a statesman who was never more to take his seat in the house. Henry Grattan expired soon after the session commenced. Sir James Mackintosh, in moving a new writ for Dublin, which he had represented for many years, observed " that he was, perhaps, the only man recorded in history who had obtained equal fame and influence in two assemblies differing from each other in such essential respects as the English and Irish parliaments." Thirty years before, in the Irish house of commons, his eloquence awed the government and thrilled the nation. It was impassioned and brilliant, yet in the highest degree logical and elaborate, even when he spoke without preparation, and had to reply, on the spur of the moment, to attacks made upon him from the ministerial benches. ' As a champion of the parliamentary independence of his country, he was intensely earnest; and his speeches had a wonderful effect in rousing the spirit which produced an army of volunteers in 1782, so numerous and so formidable that the government was compelled to yield to the national demand; and the grateful parliament voted him a large sum of money for the purchase of an estate. His success, however, followed by the organisation of the United Irishmen, and the rebellion of 1798, caused the British government to resolve upon the abolition of the Irish parliament, as the only effectual security against separation. Grattan resisted the measure with all his energy; and, though prostrated with illness, he was carried into the house to make his last speech against the union. It was apprehended by his friends that as a statesman he would shine with greatly diminished lustre in the British house of commons, to whose more frigid atmosphere it was supposed his style of eloquence was not adapted. But it had a solid foundation of good sense. It was powerfully argumentative, as well as fluent and fervid - "logic on fire;" and he had, besides, an austere dignity of character that commanded the respect of the British senate. He could not, however, have been expected to carry with him to Westminster the same buoyancy of spirit that distinguished him in the native parliament of which he was the chief ornament, whose short-lived independence he had achieved, and concerning which he said, beautifully and sadly, "I have sat by its cradle, I have followed its hearse."

Lord Campbell remarks that the session promised for some weeks to be very dull; no subjects more stirring being brought forward or announced than the settlement of the civil list, the discharge of insolvent debtors, the suppression of Sunday newspapers, and the reading of the Athanasian Creed. To one of those subjects, the civil list, Lord Eldon thus jocosely alluded in a letter to his daughter: - "Our royal master seems to have got into temper again, as far as I could judge from his conversation with me this morning. He has been pretty well disposed to part with us all, because we would not make additions to his revenue. This we thought conscientiously we could not do in the present state of the country, and of the distresses of the middle and lower orders of the people. To which we might add, too, that of the higher orders."

But there was one subject of general and permanent interest brought under the notice of the house of commons. Mr. Henry Brougham made an important speech on the great and difficult subject of popular education, which he continued to advocate, with so much power and success, throughout the whole of his lengthened and brilliant career. He stated that there were then twelve thousand parishes, or chapelries in England; of these three thousand five hundred had not a vestige of a school, and the people had no more means of education than the Hottentots or Kaffirs. Of the remainder, there were five thousand five hundred unendowed, depending entirely on the casual and fleeting support of the parents of the children attending them. The number of children receiving education at all the schools, week-day and Sunday, was seven hundred thousand. Estimating the number educated at home at fifty thousand, the whole number then under instruction would be seven hundred and fifty thousand - about one-fifteenth of the entire population. In Scotland, the proportion at that time was about one-tenth; in Holland and Prussia, the same; in Switzerland, one - eighth. France was then at the bottom of the scale; only one-twenty-eighth of the population being under instruction. Mr. Brougham proposed a school-rate for England, according to the American plan. But then started up the difficulty, which has continued to perplex statesmen ever since, and seems almost as far from solution as ever. Popular education in England must be based upon religion; but this is a subject upon which the religious bodies cannot be brought to agree. The church of England must have her catechism and formularies; the dissenters must be at liberty to teach religion in their own way; the Roman catholics will agree with neither; and so it is impossible to get them to concur in any general plan of national education. Great progress, however, has been made in the work of popular education since the subject was taken up by lord Brougham, more than fifty years ago; a fact which we shall have ample opportunities of illustrating as we proceed in this history.

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