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Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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The liberals seem to have been strongly inclined to the opinion that the duke of Wellington, having won the great victory of emancipation, should retire from the field - that he was not fit to lead the van of progress in parliament. "The prime minister of England," exclaimed Sir Francis Burdett, "is shamefully insensible to the suffering and distress which are painfully apparent throughout the land. When, instead of meeting such an overwhelming pressure of necessity with some measure of relief, or some attempt at relief, he seeks to stifle every important inquiry - when he calls that a partial and temporary evil which is both long-lived and universal, I cannot look on such a mournful crisis, in which the public misfortune is insulted by ministerial apathy, without hailing any prospect of change in the system which has produced it. What shall we say to the ignorance which can attribute our distress to the introduction of machinery and the application of steam, that noble improvement in the inventions of man, to which men of science and intelligence mainly ascribe our prosperity? I feel a high and unfeigned respect for that illustrious person's abilities in the field, but I cannot help thinking that he did himself no less than justice when he said, a few months before he accepted office, that he should be a fit inmate for an asylum of a peculiar nature, if he ever were induced to take such a burden upon his shoulders."

On the 12th of February, Sir James Graham moved for the reduction of the salaries of all persons holding offices under government, in proportion to the enhanced value of money, produced by the Bank Restriction Act, which added to the weight of all fixed payments, while it lowered wages and the price of provisions. "Hence," he said, "the miserable state to which the people of this country were now reduced, and the necessity for rigid, unsparing economy; and in that system of economy one great source of retrenchment must be the reduction of the salaries of those who had their hands in the public purse. Justice requires, necessity demands it." Ministers did not dare to resist this motion openly. They evaded it by an amendment, which was unanimously adopted, for an address to the king, requesting him to order an inquiry to be made into all the departments of the civil government, with a view of reducing the number of persons employed in the various services, and the amount of their salaries. On the 15th, Mr. Hume attempted to carry retrenchment into the army and navy, moving a resolution to the effect, that the former should be reduced by 20,000 men, and the latter by the sum of a million and a-half. All the reductions he proposed would have effected a saving of eight millions annually. But neither the whigs nor the Canning party were disposed to go such lengths. The motion was, therefore, defeated, the minority consisting solely of radical reformers, who mustered fifty-seven on the division. Another assault on the government was led on by Mr. Poulett Thomson, who moved for the appointment of a committee for a revision of the system of taxation, with a view to saving expense in the mode of collecting the revenue. The motion was resisted by Mr. Peel, on the ground that such important duties should not be delegated to a fraction of the members of the house. The motion was rejected by a large majority. A few days later, however, the ministers sustained a damaging defeat in the committee of supply on the navy estimates. Two young men, who had been public servants for a few months only, Mr. R. Dundas and Mr. W. S. Bathurst, junior commissioners of the navy, had been pensioned off on the reduction of their offices, the one with 400 and the other with 500 a year. The arrangement was attacked as a gross job, and defended upon principle, and the ministers, after mustering all their strength, were beaten by a majority of 139 to 121, on the motion that those pensions should be struck off. Several other motions, brought forward with a view of effecting retrenchments, were rejected by the house. This movement in the direction of financial reform, no doubt, received an impulse from the resentment of the leading whigs, whose claims to take part in the government were ignored by the duke. But this remark does not apply to the efforts of Mr. Attwood and Mr. Baring, who moved that instead o! a gold standard, there should be a gold and silver standard, and that the act for prohibiting the issue of small notes should be repealed. They strengthened their case by an appeal to the facts of the existing distress and commercial' depression arising from a restricted currency. On the part of the government, however, it was argued that a double standard of gold and silver would cause a loss of five per cent, to creditors, if debtors were to pay in the silver standard - that the whole country would be a scene of confusion and ruin - that silver never was, in practice, the standard of the country, and that it never had been actually in a state to be used as a legal tender. Latterly, the law had enacted that it should not be a legal tender beyond twenty-five pounds. By weight, indeed, it was a legal tender to any amount, but practically it had become so depreciated, that there was no such thing as a standard by weight. Mr. Attwood's resolutions on the currency were negatived without a division.

Though the duke of Wellington defended himself against the persevering attacks of the financial reformers, he was busy making retrenchments in every department of the public service. So effectually did he employ the pruning-hook, that, although the income of the previous year had fallen short of the estimate of the chancellor of the exchequer by 560,000, he was able to present to the house this year a surplus of 3,400,000 available for the reduction of taxation, still leaving an excess of income over expenditure of 2,667,000 applicable to the reduction of debt. There was, consequently, a large remission of taxation, the principal item of which was the beer duty, estimated at 3,000,000. At the same time, in order to enable the chancellor of the exchequer to meet these reductions, an addition of one shilling a gallon was made to the duty on English spirits, and of twopence on Irish and Scotch spirits. This budget helped to clear the political atmosphere, and brought a brief gleam of popularity to the government. The duke got full credit for an earnest desire to economise, and it was acknowledged by the liberal party that he had given the most important financial relief that the nation had experienced since the establishment of peace. Notwithstanding, however, the general satisfaction, and the loud popular applause, the pressure of distress was not sensibly alleviated. The burden, indeed, was somewhat lightened, but what the nation wanted was greater strength to bear financial burdens, a revival of its industrial energies, and facilities for putting them forth with profit to themselves and to the country. Remissions of taxation were but the weight of a feather, compared to the losses sustained by the action of the currency. For while the reductions only relieved the nation to the extent of three or four millions, it was estimated that the monetary laws, by cutting off at least fifty per cent, from the remuneration of all branches of industry, commercial and agricultural, had reduced the incomes of the industrious classes to the extent of a hundred and fifty millions yearly.

Among the other causes which contributed to the unpopularity of the duke of Wellington, and the weakness of his administration, was the prosecution by the attorney- general of Mr. Alexander, the editor of the Morning Journal. A series of articles had appeared in that paper, which were considered so virulent and libellous, so far surpassing the bounds of fair discussion, that the duke felt under the same necessity of ordering a prosecution that he had felt to fight the duel with lord Winchelsea. It was regarded as an inevitable incident of his position, one of the things required to enable him to carry on the king's government. He obtained a victory, but it cost him dear: a sentence of fine and imprisonment was inflicted upon his opponent, and the Morning Journal was extinguished; but, in the temper of the times, the public were by no means disposed to sympathise with the victor in such a contest. On the contrary, the victory covered him with odium, and placed upon the head of the convicted the crown of martyrdom. Mr. Alexander was visited daily in the King's Bench Prison by leading politicians, and a motion was made in the house of commons with a view to incriminate the government who ordered the prosecution. In another instance also, but of a nature less damaging, the government received a warning of its approaching downfall. Mr. Peel, anxious to mitigate the severity of the criminal code, and to render it less bloody, proposed to inflict the penalty of death only on persons committing such forgeries as could not by proper precautions be guarded against. It was a step in the right direction; but one too hesitating, and stopping short of the firm ground of sound policy. Sir James Mackintosh, therefore, on the third reading of the bill, moved a clause for the abolition of the penalty of death in all cases of forgery, which was carried by a majority of 151 against 138. Thus the session wore on, in a sort of tantalising parliamentary warfare, with no decisive advantages on either side, till the attention and interest of parliament and the nation were absorbed by the approaching dissolution of George IV., and the dawning light of a new reign.

For many years the king had been scarcely ever free from gout, but its attacks had been resisted by the uncommon strength of his constitution. Partly in consequence of the state of his health, and partly from his habits of self- indulgence, he had for some time led a life of great seclusion. He became growingly averse to all public displays and ceremonials, and was impatient of any intrusions upon his privacy. During the spring of 1829 he resided at St. James's Palace, where he gave a ball to the juvenile branches of the nobility, to which the princess Victoria and the young queen of Portugal were invited. His time was mostly spent within the royal domain at Windsor, where his out-door amusements were sailing and fishing on the Virginia Water, or driving rapidly in a pony phaeton through the forest. He was occasionally afflicted with pains in the eyes and defective vision. The gout attacked him in the hands as well as in the feet, and towards the end, dropsy - a disease which had been fatal to the duke of York, and to his sister, the queen of Wurtemburg - was added to his other maladies. In April the disease assumed a decisive character, and bulletins began to be issued. The duke of Clarence was at Windsor, and warmly expressed his sympathy with the royal sufferer. The duke of Cumberland, and nearly all the royal family, expressed to Sir William Knighton their anxiety and fears as to the issue. This devoted servant was constantly by the side of his master. On the 27th of May Sir William wrote to lady Knighton - " The king is particularly affectionate to me. His majesty is gradually breaking down; but the time required, if it does not happen suddenly, to destroy his originally fine constitution, no one can calculate upon." We are assured that Sir William took every opportunity of calling his majesty's attention to religious subjects, and had even placed unordered a quarto Bible, of large type, on the dressing-table, with which act of attention the king was much pleased, and frequently referred to the sacred volume. A prayer was appointed for public use during his majesty's indisposition, which the bishop of Chichester read to him. " With the king's permission," wrote this learned prelate, "I repeated it on my knees at his bedside. At the close, his majesty having listened to it with the utmost attention, three times repeated ' Amen,' with the greatest fervour and devotion. He expressed himself highly gratified with it, and desired me to convey his approbation of it to the archbishop of Canterbury."

About a week before he died, the physician delicately announced to him the inevitable catastrophe, when he said, " God's will be done." His sufferings were very great, and during the paroxysms of pain his moans were heard even by the sentinels on duty in the quadrangle. On the night of the 25th, his difficulty of breathing was unusually painful, and he motioned to his page to alter his position on the couch. Towards three o'clock, he felt a sudden attack of faintness, accompanied by a violent discharge of blood. At this moment he attempted to raise his hand to his breast, and ejaculated, "O God, I am dying!" Two or three seconds afterwards he said, "This is death." The physicians were instantly called, but before they arrived the breath of life was gone. A post mortem examination showed ossification of the heart, which was greatly enlarged, and adhering to the neighbouring parts. The liver was not diseased; but the lungs were ulcerated, and there were dropsical symptoms on the skin, on various parts of the body. The king was an unusually large and, at one time, well-proportioned man; but he afterwards became very corpulent. He died on the 26th of June, in the sixty-eighth year of his age and the eleventh of his reign, having been prince regent for ten years. During his last illness the bulletins had been unusually deceptive. The king was anxious to put away the idea of dissolution from his own mind, and unwilling that the public should know that his infirmities were so great; and it was said that he required to see the bulletins and to have them altered, so that he was continually announced as being better till the day of his death. His message to both houses on the 24th of May, however, put an end to all delusion on the subject. He wished to be relieved from the pain and trouble of signing bills and documents with his own hand. A bill was therefore passed to enable him to give his assent verbally, but it was jealously guarded against being made a dangerous precedent. The stamp was to be affixed in the king's presence, by his immediate order given by word of mouth. A memorandum of the circumstances must accompany the stamp, and the document stamped must be previously endorsed by three members of the privy council; the operation of the act being limited to the present session. The three commissioners appointed for affixing his majesty's signature were lord Farnborough, general Sir W. Keppel, and major-general A. F. Barnard.

Various estimates have been formed of the deceased monarch's character, some of them rather flattering. Among these was the portrait drawn of him by Sir Robert Peel. "Posterity," he said, "will regard his late majesty as a sovereign who, during war, maintained the honour and the glory of England, and who, during the whole period of his delegated trust, or of his reign as sovereign, never exercised, or wished to exercise, a prerogative of the crown, except for the advantage of his people. I am not overstepping the bounds of sober truth, when I state that his majesty was an enlightened friend of liberty, that he was an admirable judge and liberal patron of the fine arts; and I can, from my own personal experience, assert that his heart was ever open to any appeal that could be made to his bene volence, and to the saving of human life or the mitigation of human suffering." To this portrait the duke of Wellington added a few finishing touches. "The manners of George IV.," he said, " had received a polish, his understanding had acquired a degree of cultivation almost unknown to any individual. On every occasion he displayed a degree of knowledge and of talent not often to be expected of a person holding his high office." *

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Pictures for Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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