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The King's Visit to Hanover page 3


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On the 20th of June, when the bill was in committee of the house of lords, the chancellor urged his objection to the retrospective clause, as unsettling the rights of property. The report being brought up on the 25th, he repeated his objections, and moved that the retrospective clause should be omitted. The motion was negatived. On the 2nd of July, the day fixed for the third reading, his brother, lord Stowell, made a similar motion, which was also defeated. The chancellor moved the insertion of a clause for giving validity to deeds, assignments, and settlements, made by persons having claims on any property affected by the bill. The marquis of Lansdowne opposed this clause, which, he said, would give the bill the effect of declaring children legitimate, and yet disinheriting them - " of peopling the house of lords with titled beggars." This clause having been negatived on a division, the chancellor proposed another to the same effect, with the addition of the words, " for good and valuable consideration." This also was rejected by a considerable majority. This was too much for the temper of lord Eldon, so long accustomed to have his way in that house. Irritated at being repeatedly thwarted in his efforts, on declaring the numbers, he exclaimed, with vehemence, " My lords, ten days ago I believed this house possessed the good opinion of the public, as the mediator between them and the laws of the country; if this bill pass tonight, I hope in God that this house may still have that good opinion ten days hence. But to say the best of this measure, I consider it neither more nor less than a legal robbery, so help me God! I have but a short time to remain with you, but I trust it will be hereafter known that I used every means in my power to prevent its passing into law." Thenceforth the venerable chancellor became sulky with his colleagues, feeling himself dragged on by their too rapid progress. He was very reluctant to attend their cabinet meetings, and absented himself whenever he could make any excuse. In reply to a summons from Mr. Peel, the home secretary, to attend a meeting on the alien act, he answered, that he could not possibly attend, adding, " My absence, however, can be of little, and possibly of no consequence."

The session ended on the 6th of August; the parliament being prorogued by the king in person. A parliamentary paper, which had been laid before the house of commons, stated that there were eighty-nine of its members, not including those who had naval or military commissions, who held offices or pensions, either in possession or reversion, to the amount of one hundred and seventy thousand three hundred and forty-three pounds. The members holding naval or military commissions were seventy-nine; so that one hundred and sixty-eight members of the house of commons were dependent upon the crown, and naturally its creatures.

Lord Londonderry, wearied with the labours of the session, had retired to his country seat at North Cray Farm, near Bexley, in Kent, to recruit his strength, and prepare to take his part as the representative of England at the forthcoming congress of Verona, which was to be held in October. There, on the 12th of August, he committed suicide by cutting the carotid artery with a penknife. Lord Eldon, in a letter on the subject, says: - " I learn, upon the best authority, that for two or three days he was perfectly insane; and the medical men attribute that fact to the operation upon his head of the unceasing attention to business which the last harassing session (to him) called for." The disease would appear to have been coming on for some time before; he had got the idea that he was beset by secret enemies - that he was the object of conspiracies. He was full of apprehension of being waylaid in the Park, and he felt that his life was every hour in danger. His mind gave way under the pressure of these morbid fears, and he put an end to his existence in the fifty-third year of his age - an event which excited profound grief throughout the conservative party at home and abroad, but which was regarded in a very different light by the friends of freedom, both here and on the Continent. Perhaps no public character ever presented two aspects so completely the opposite of one another, according to the point of view from which it was regarded. According to the tory view, no English statesman had ever accomplished such a series of important services to his country. They believed that the legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland entitled him to rank with the ablest ministers of his time. But eminently beneficial as that measure was regarded, it was thrown into the shade by the subsequent calculations of lord Castlereagh - first as secretary at war, and then as foreign secretary - which effected the overthrow of the mighty military despot by whom his country had been so long menaced. In the eyes of his party, nothing could exceed the manliness of his bearing in the unequal conflict in which every session he found himself engaged, " unless it is to be looked for in the inexhaustible amicability that characterised his relations with the most implacable of his foes." " As a statesman, as a gentleman, as a man," says the duke of Buckingham, "the marquis of Londonderry was the Bayard of political chivalry - sans peur et sans reproche; and it reflects no slight disgrace on this monument-rearing age that, neither in the land of his nativity, nor in that of his adoption, has any memorial been raised worthy of his fame." A still more ardent eulogist declares that his whole life was a continual struggle with the majority in his own or foreign lands. He combated to subdue or to bless them. He began his career by rescuing his native country from the incapable legislature by which its energies had been so long repressed. His mature strength was exerted in a long and desperate conflict with the despotism of revolutionary France, which his firmness, as well as the arm of Wellington, brought to a triumphant issue. His latter days were spent in a ceaseless conflict with the revolutionary spirit in his own country, and in anxious efforts to uphold the dignity of Great Britain, which he had been preparing to assert at Verona as he had done in the congresses of Laybach and Troppau. His policy in domestic affairs was marked by the same far-seeing wisdom, the same intrepid resistance to clamour. He made the most strenuous efforts to uphold the sinking fund - " that noble monument of Mr. Pitt's patriotic foresight. Had those efforts been successful, the whole national debt would have been paid off in the year 1845, and the nation for ever have been freed from the payment of thirty million pounds a-year for its interest." The firm friend of freedom, he was, on that very account, the resolute opponent of democracy, the insidious enemy which, under the guise of a friend, has in every age blasted its progress. "Elegant and courteous in his manners, with a noble figure and finely-chiselled countenance, he was beloved in his family circle and by all his friends, not less than respected by the wide circle of sovereigns and statesmen with whom he had so worthily upheld the honour and dignity of England."* Such in substance is the estimate formed by Sir Archibald Alison, and which the party of which he is the champion would not consider exaggerated. Lord Eldon expressed the feeling of that party produced at the time by this melancholy event. " Our own country and Europe," he wrote, " have suffered a loss in my opinion irreparable. I had a great affection for him, and he deserved it from me, for to me he showed a uniform kindness, of which no other colleague's conduct forms an example."

Very different from this is the picture drawn by the Irish nationalists. Lord Londonderry, then viscount Castlereagh, was appointed chief secretary of Ireland in November, 1798, under his uncle, lord Camden, that lord-lieutenant; but neither he nor Mr. Pitt seemed aware of the amazing elements of power then latent in the young minister. "Who, indeed, could have believed," asks an Irish writer, " that under that bland, adolescent air, that lithe and dazzling front, and, stranger still, that tongue so awkward and mal-adroit, were hidden a heart as subtle, a will as truculent, a courage as cold, a conscience as unscrupulous as Caesar Borgia's? For a model of Castlereagh's character we naturally refer, not to the generous ambition and the gallant rivalries of the British parliament, but to the crafty, impassable, and implicable ideal of Machiavelli's prince, or the inexorable volition, passionless wisdom, and atrocious cold blood of the first Napoleon. He was then not quite thirty years of age, and wore them with such a blooming, patrician beauty, that it was the custom of the opposition to speak of the secretary as a smooth-faced minion of Mr. Pitt. To the last days of his life Castlereagh's mixed metaphors were the sport of the wits of opposition; but sneer, stricture, and invective alike glanced aside from hs imperturbable, polite placidity and his callous pluck. Few men have ever possessed such extraordinary executive faculties, such reticence, tact, and duplicity, such skill in deceiving, and such address in managing men, and so intense and even an energy in the conduct of great affairs. In a few months he earned a name the most hateful in Ireland since Cromwell's time. During the last months of the rebellion, as secretary ad interim, he had served a rapid noviciate in the corrupt system of the Castle, at one of its worst periods. Bloody Carhampton, domineering Clare, and Toler, a ferocious vampire, composed the real executive of the country at the time. At such a council board he learned to ' dabble his sleek young hands in Erin's gore,' and learned the lesson with all the rancorous zeal of a renegade; for, a very few years before, his lordship had been a very ultra-democratic northern whig. Already an audacious and unscrupulous ambition possessed him. It was said that he even ventured to emulate the fame and imitate the methods of Mr. Pitt; but perhaps the brilliant success which another young Irish noble, lord Mornington, had rapidly won in the wider field of imperial politics, obtained a more natural incentive for him. Fifteen years afterwards, he and the two brothers Wellesley concluded that awful contest in which Pitt himself had succumbed. Its secret history is that of an alliance between these three Irish adventurers. It was Castlereagh who appointed and maintained the duke of Wellington as British generalissimo; Wellesley who suggested, and Castlereagh who conducted the diplomatic arrangements which banded all Europe against Napoleon at the congress of Vienna."

Nothing could exceed the vehemence with which Irish orators denounced the means by which Castlereagh carried the union. On the bribing of the Irish parliament to put an end to its own existence, for which one million five hundred thousand pounds was openly set apart to be levied of the Irish people, Plunket expressed himself with the utmost indignation. On the 10th of March, 1800, he stood up in the Irish house of commons and demanded of lord Castlereagh whether he meant to abandon " such an abomination, so irritating to their feelings, so insulting to the honour of the country, that no base miscreant, however powerful his influence, who had the meanness and criminality to listen to the corrupt and degrading proposal of purchasing from him the representative rights of his country for fifteen thousand, twenty thousand, or forty thousand pounds, should continue to exult in his infamous and corrupt triumph over every principle of national honour and justice." Castlereagh having coolly answered that he was only waiting till the articles of union were adopted by both houses to propose the exact quantum and mode of compensation, Plunket continued, "Here, then, is a poor country, that has travelled, according to the noble lord's account, so rapidly in the career of bankruptcy, that her finances are unequal to her war establishment or her civil establishment - a nation almost engulfed in the jaws of beggary and ruin - yet this poor country is now told by the minister she must find a million and a half of money to be raffled for by the members of this house; but that every man who takes the dice-box in his hand to throw for his share of the plunder must first pledge himself to vote for the union. What will the people of Ireland say to so base and flagitious a piece of plunder as this juggling from them, by taxes on their wants and miseries, the enormous sum of a million and a half, to reward the betrayers of their rights and liberties?"

This was the Irish view of lord Castlereagh's statesmanship; twenty years later the English liberals did not regard it in a much more favourable light. Under the foreign policy, which he directed, the British government confined itself to passive protests or vain declarations of abstract principles, while the Holy Alliance was strangling the new-born liberty of Italy and Spain. A contemporary writer observes, that the degeneracy in the foreign policy of England resulted from the political career and character of lord Londonderry: - " No government, even that of ancient Rome, ever held a more commanding position than England upon the fall of the French empire. Aggrieved individuals and oppressed nations appealed to her as the arbitress, like Rome, of public right and political dominion over the civilised world. She had proffered to her the high and heroic part in the drama of European politics, and lord Londonderry condemned her to play a subordinate and mean one. His ignorance of the social intellect of Europe, past and present, in arts, literature, and policy; his silly adoption of the aristocratic tone and despotic principles of ministers and monarchs with whom he associated abroad; his impertinent false shame of the plebeian liberty of England; his openness to the hollow flatteries of courtiers and their sovereigns; his total want of continental experience in public affairs - enabled men possessing an accurate topical knowledge of Europe, physical and moral, and trained in negotiation, artifice, and intrigue, to practice upon his incapacity and weakness, and led him beyond his depth. In 1815-16 he actually co-operated with the relentless despotism which trampled on the rights of ancient and free states and independent nations. In the interval, however, between the congresses of Vienna and Verona, he became sensible of the false position into which he had brought his government, his country, and himself. When the holy allies, grouped in congress at Troppau, and by adjournment at Laybach, issued an infamous proscription of human rights, liberty, and reason, declaring that every change in legislation and government should emanate from those alone (themselves) whom God had rendered responsible for power, lord Londonderry protested, but with equivocal epithets and neutralising qualifications; and the emperor of Austria, without a shadow of right except that of tyranny and brute force, destroyed the constitutional governments, and restored the imbecile tyranny of Naples and Piedmont, with the additional pressure of his own barbarous yoke upon the whole of ill-fated, illustrious Italy."

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