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Chapter XXXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


State of Parties in 1837 - Testimonial to Lord J. Russell - Speech of Lord Morpeth on the Whig Policy and its Results - Sir Robert Peel Lord Rector of the Glasgow University - Banquet to Messrs. Byng and Hume in Drury Lane Theatre - Opening of Parliament: the Royal Speech- Position of the Ministry - Irish Measures - Sheil on the Irish " Aliens " Bill for the Abolition of Church Rates - The King's Illness; his Death; his Character - Testimonies of Lord Melbourne, the Duke of Wellington, Earl Grey, and Sir Robert Peel-The Fitzclarences - Career of Mrs. Jordan - The Funeral Obsequies - Severance of the Crown of Hanover, which descended to the Duke of Cumberland.
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The state of parties in the house of commons at the opening of the session of 1837 was so evenly balanced, that the government had a very narrow majority. The number of whigs was calculated at 150, of liberals 100, and of radicals 80, making the total number of ministerialists 330. On the other side, the tories counted 139, the ultra-tories 100, and the conservatives, belonging to the new school which Sir Robert Peel had constituted, 80. This state of parties seemed to the leaders on each side to necessitate constant appeals to the great tribunal of public opinion, in order to sustain the government on the one hand, and to enforce the claims of the opposition on the other. Consequently, public meetings were held during the recess in most of the great towns, in which all the delinquencies of the tory party were recited, and their reactionary policy vehemently deprecated. On the other hand, the concessions of the whigs to democracy and popery, and their alleged unprincipled alliance with O'Connell, were urged as reasons why they should be hurled from power as speedily as possible. The cry of "The church in danger! " was also raised at this time against the government, which, however, was firmly supported by its own party out of doors. On the 10th of November a public dinner was given to lord John Russell at Bristol, when a piece of plate, which had been purchased by subscriptions of sixpence each, was presented to his lordship. Perhaps the most just and eloquent, as well as the most concise, defence of the liberal policy was given by lord Morpeth, afterwards earl of Carlisle, at a public meeting of his constituents at Leeds.

" I value," said he, " the constitution, and will do my utmost to maintain it; but under its broad and expansive shade I would remove every obstacle, and clear away every avenue of access, to every class, to every creed, to every race that owns its sway or courts its shelter. I would proceed in reducing and removing all the remainder of exclusive privileges and monopolies by which one class of our countrymen may be benefited to the detriment of the rest. I would give to religious as well as to civil freedom the most unobstructed range; and at one act I would desire to banish from our temples and altars the clash of sordid disputes and civil bickerings. I would cling to no abuse because it is ancient; shrink from no improvement because it is change. The destiny of parties, as of nations, is beyond human ken; but I shall always, as a member of party, recollect with pride that in four short years we have reformed the representation of the people in parliament - reformed and opened the municipal corporations of England and Scotland - swept from our blushing records the demon of slavery - opened wide the seas and shores of the globe to British trade and enterprise. And this, the legislation of four short years, has been - let the over-timid and over-bold mark this - achieved without one form of the constitution being violated - without one breach of the law being countenanced - without one drop of human blood being spilt."

Sir Robert Peel having been elected lord rector of the university of Glasgow, in opposition to Sir John Campbell, then attorney-general, the conservative leader was invited to a public banquet, which was attended by many of the nobility and gentry of the west of Scotland. In replying to the toast of his health, Sir Robert Peel said: -

"I want not to taunt you with re-action or conversion, but I say, if you adhere to the sentiments which you professed in 1830, it is here you should come. You consented to a reform, to which you were invited in a speech by your sovereign, expressly on the condition that it should be according to the acknowledged principles of the constitution. I see the necessity of widening the foundations on which the defence of our constitution and our religious establishments must rest. But let us come to the main point, for I do not wish to conciliate your confidence by hoisting false colours. I mean to support the national establishments which connect protestantism with the state in the three countries. (Loud cheers, the whole company rising.) I mean to support, in its full integrity, the house of lords, as an essential and indispensable condition to the maintenance of the constitution under which we live. Do you also concur in that expression of opinion? And if you do, it is a timely declaration of it. The hour has arrived when, if these are our feelings, we must be prepared to act upon them. The disturbing influence of foreign example has diminished; the dazzling illusion of the glorious day has passed away; the affections of the people are visibly gravitating again to their old centre - full of respect for property, a love of rational freedom, and an attachment to long-established institutions. From these walls, I trust, a spirit will go forth to animate the desponding, and to encourage the timid. I look abroad from the spot on which I stand to the moral influence of that opinion which constitutes 1 the cheap defence of nations.' I look to it for the maintenance of that system of government which protects the rich from spoliation and the poor from oppression. I look to that spirit which will range itself under no tawdry banner of revolution, but unfurl and rally round

"'The flag that's braved a thousand years The battle and the breeze.'

Yes! I feel not a shadow of doubt that it will continue to float in triumph, and that the constitution, tried as it has been in the storms of adversity, will come forth purified and fortified in the rooted convictions, the feelings, the affections of a religious, a moral, and a patriotic people."

A splendid demonstration by the liberal party took place on the 23rd of the same month, in London. It was a public banquet given to Messrs. Byng and Hume, the members for Middlesex, in Drury Lane Theatre, the pit of which was boarded over, and upon the floor thus constructed the tables were ranged, having covers for 1,500, while the boxes presented a galaxy of ladies, and the galleries were crowded with sympathising and applauding spectators. The chair was occupied by Lord William Russell. Mr. Byng, in returning thanks for his health, remarked that "he had represented his constituents and their fathers for fifty years. He had been against the French war in 1793, both from principle and policy, but nine-tenths of the country were in favour of it. There was no doubt that the great bulk of the nation were favourable to that war, but they dearly for their horror of French infidelity and republican anarchy, and for their subsequent dread of a French invasion."

Parliament was opened by commission on the last day of January. The royal speech announced the continuance of friendly relations with foreign powers, alluded to the affairs of Spain and Portugal, and directed the attention of parliament to the state of Lower Canada. It recommended a renewal of the inquiry into the operation of joint-stock banks; also measures for the improvement of civil and criminal jurisprudence, and for giving increased stability to the established church. Special attention was directed to the state of Ireland, with reference to its municipal corporations and the collection of tithes, and to " the difficult and pressing question of a legal provision for the poor." Animated debates on the address took place in both houses. The radicals, led on by Mr. Roebuck, strongly condemned the want of earnest purpose on the part of ministers, whom he represented as "worse than the tories." He accused them of pandering to popular passions on one side, and to patrician feelings on the other. But, situated as they were, what could they do? Their majority was small and uncertain in the commons, while the opposition in the lords was powerful and determined. They were trying to get on with a house of commons elected under the influence of a conservative administration. Of course, lord Melbourne could have dissolved parliament, and appealed to the country, in the hope of getting a working majority; but the king was decidedly averse to a dissolution; and it would have been an exceedingly unwise course to adopt, at a time when the precarious state of his health plainly indicated that the reign was fast drawing to a close, and its termination would necessitate another general election. It was unreasonable to expect that in consequence of weakness proceeding from such causes, a liberal cabinet should surrender the reins of power to the tory party, on the eve of a new reign, and with all the bright prospects that would be opened by the accession of a youthful queen to the throne. The ministry, however, lost no time in introducing their Irish measures - the new Municipal Reform Bill, and the Bill for the Relief of the Poor. The former, after three nights' debate, passed the commons by a majority - 302 to 247. It was during this debate that Mr. Sheil delivered his brilliant reply to the indiscreet and unstates-manlike taunt of lord Lyndhurst, who, when speaking on the same question in the upper house, declared that the Irish were "aliens in blood, in language, and religion." " The duke of Wellington," said Mr. Sheil, " is not a man of sudden emotions; but he should not, when he heard that word used, have forgotten Vimiera, Badajoz and Salamanca, and Toulouse, and the last glorious conflict, which crowned all his former victories. On that day, when the destinies of mankind were trembling in the balance, when the batteries spread slaughter over the field, and the legions of France rushed again and again to the onset, did the ' aliens ' then flinch? On that day the blood of the men of England, of Ireland, and of Scotland was poured forth together. They fought on the same field, they died the same death, they were stretched in the same pit; their dust was commingled; the same dew of heaven fell on the grass that covered them; the same grass sprang from the soil in which they reposed together. And is it to be endured that we are to be called aliens and strangers to that empire for whose salvation our best blood has been poured out? "

The subject of church rates having created much ill- feeling in towns and districts where the dissenters were most numerous, an attempt was made by the government to abolish the impost. It was found that the sum which they produced was about 250,000 a-year, and it was proposed to obtain that amount by a better management of the estates of bishops, deans, and chapters, by placing them under the control of eleven commissioners, who should first pay the bishops and dignitaries' salaries out of the proceeds, and devote the rest of the fund thus realised to the objects for which church rates were levied, namely, the repair of churches and the supply of the necessaries for public worship. But an outcry was raised against this plan as being based upon the principle of church spoliation. The bishops and clergy resisted strenuously, and the friends of the church were roused to such an extent that the majority in the house of commons on the second reading of the bill was only five. This majority was tantamount to a defeat, and therefore the measure was abandoned.

On the 9th of June a bulletin was published, which fixed public attention on the precarious state of the king's health. It announced that his majesty had suffered for some time from an affection of the chest, which had produced considerable weakness. The burden of regal state, assumed at so late a period of life, seemed to have been too much for his strength, and to have caused too great a change in his habits. Accustomed as he had been to live in a state of ease, free from care and responsibility, he soon began to feel the duties of his position irksome, and he gradually took less and less interest in state affairs. In the preceding month of April his eldest daughter, lady de Lisle, died, and also the queen's mother, the duchess- dowager of Meiningen. These events made a deep impression upon his mind, which acted upon his enfeebled constitution, and aggravated the symptoms of his disease. From the 9th of June, when the first bulletin was issued, he grew daily worse; the circulation became more languid, and the general decay more apparent. On the 20th of June he expired, in the seventy-third year of his age, having reigned nearly seven years. The queen was constant and unwearied in her attentions at his bed-side, so much so that it was stated she had not changed her dress for twelve days. The tolling of the great bell at the castle awakened the inhabitants of Windsor at four o'clock in the morning, announcing that the king was no more. At the usual time the royal standard was hoisted on the round tower, but only at half its usual height, and shortly afterwards the streets were filled with groups of persons discussing the merits and lamenting the loss of the good old king, of whom they were suddenly, though not unexpectedly, bereaved. He had received the sacrament on the Sunday previous from the archbishop of Canterbury, who was present at his death. He was lethargic, but conscious to the last of the presence of those upon whom his affections were fixed. He was fervent in his expressions of religious hope; and just before breathing his last faintly articulated, "Thy will be done." A post-mortem examination showed that the nature of his disease was a general tendency to ossification and decay about the heart, the lungs, and the other vital organs. His kindness of heart and simplicity of character, which had endeared him greatly to all classes of his subjects, caused him to be generally and sincerely lamented. In the house of peers lord Melbourne referred to his death as a loss which had deprived the nation of a monarch always anxious for the interest and welfare of his subjects; and added, " which has deprived me of a most generous master, and the world of a man - I would say one of the best of men - a monarch of the strictest integrity that it has ever pleased Divine Providence to place over these realms. The knowledge which he had acquired in the course of his professional education of the colonial service and of civil matters, was found by him exceedingly valuable, and he dealt with the details of practical business in the most familiar and most advantageous manner. A more fair or more just man he had never met with in his intercourse with the world. He gave the most patient attention, even when his own opinion was opposed to what was stated, being most willing to hear what could be urged in opposition to it. These were great and striking qualities in any man, but more striking in a monarch." The duke of Wellington said: - " It has been my lot to serve his majesty at different periods of difficulty. Upon these occasions he manifested, not only all those virtues described by the noble viscount, but likewise that firmness, that discretion, that justice, and spirit of conciliation towards others, placed as he was in circumstances in which probably a sovereign never was placed before. I say that probably there never was a monarch who, under such circumstances, encountered the difficulties he met with, with more success than he did upon every occasion." The duke added that, although he had taken measures which led to his resignation of a high office as duke of Clarence, this fact caused no coldness when he came to the throne; " for," said he, " he employed me in his service, and ever treated me with the greatest tenderness, condescension, confidence, and favour, that so long as I live I never can forget." Earl Grey also bore testimony to the eminent qualities which lord Melbourne and the duke of Wellington had enumerated. He had found him a kind and indulgent master; and a man more sincerely devoted to the interests of his country, and better understanding what was necessary for the attainment of that object - "more patient in considering every circumstance connected with those interests, or in the discharge of his duty on all occasions, never did exist; and if ever there was a sovereign entitled to the character, he might truly be styled 'the patriot king.' " In the house of commons Sir Robert Peel crowned the eulogy on the character of the departed monarch by saying: - "He did believe it was the universal feeling of the country that the reins of government were never committed to the hands of one who bore himself as a sovereign with more affability, and yet with more true dignity - to one who was more compassionate for the sufferings of others, or to one whose nature was more utterly free from all selfishness. He did not believe that in the most exalted, or the most humble station, there could be found a man who felt more pleasure in witnessing and promoting the happiness of others."

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Pictures for Chapter XXXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


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