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Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 19

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But the accident alluded to was of a more serious nature than was suspected, and, falling on a weak and exhausted frame, was about to bring his reign to an abrupt close. In riding towards Hampton Court on the 21st of February, on Iiis accustomed Saturday's excursion to hunt there, his horse fell with him and fractured his collar-bone, besides doing liim other serious injury. He was carried to Hampton Court, where the bone was set; and though the surgeon remarked that his pulse was feverish, he was deemed in too feeble a condition to admit of benefit by bleeding. Contrary, moreover, to the advice of his medical attendants, he would insist on returning that same evening to Kensington, and was, accordingly, conveyed thither in a carriage; but, on arriving, it was found that the collar-bone, by the jolting of the carriage, was again displaced. It was again set, and the king slept well the night through after it. For several days no bad consequences appeared; but on the 1st of March a great pain and weakness was felt in his knee. Ronjat, his surgeon, a Frenchman, who had reset the bone, had contended that he ought to have been bled; Bidloo, his Dutch physician, had opposed it as injurious in his debilitated state. He was now attended by Sir Thomas Millington, Sir Richard Black- more, Sir Theodore Colledon, Dr. Bidloo, and other eminent physicians. Again he appeared to rally, and on the 4th of March he took several turns in the gallery at Kensington; but, sitting down on a couch, he fell asleep, and awoke shivering and in high fever. On this there was a hurry to pass several bills through the lords that they might receive his signature, in case of fatal termination of his illness. These were the malt-tax bill, the bill for the prince of Wales's attainder, and one in favour of the quakers, making their affirmation valid instead of an oath. These being prepared, and the king not being able to use his hand, the royal signature was affixed by a stamp made for the purpose.

This took place on the 7th of March, and was not a moment too soon, for the king's symptoms rapidly gained strength, and he died the next day. The earl of Albemarle, his great favourite, arrived from Holland on the day preceding his death, and it was thought the good news which lie brought would cheer him, but William appeared to receive his information with indifference, and merely replied, " Je tire vers ma fin " I approach my end." The news of the king's danger filled the antechamber with such a throng of courtiers as is generally witnessed at the expected moment of a monarch's decease; not prompted by affection, but on the watch for seizing the earliest moment to make their court to his successor. Physicians, statesmen, and emissaries of interested parties were there mingled, eagerly listening for the reports of his state, and ready to fly with the news of his decease. Amongst these were the messengers of the princess Anne and of Lady Marlborough, who, with her husband, now absent with the army in Holland, had scarcely less to expect from the event. Yet even lady Marlborough, assuredly by no means sensitive where her ambition was concerned, expresses her disgust at the scene. " When the king came to die, I felt nothing of the satisfaction which I once thought I should have had on this occasion; and my lord and lady Jersey's writing and sending perpetually to give an account (to the princess Anne) as his breath grew shorter and shorter, filled me with horror." These Jerseys, who were thus courting the favour of the heiress to the crown by these incessant messages of the advancing death of the king, had been amongst those on whom he had heaped favours and benefits pre-eminently. Such is the end of princes. The closing scene is thus detailed by bishop Burnet, who, to the last, showed himself one of the steadiest and most grateful of his courtiers. "The king's strength and pulse were still sinking as the difficulty of breathing increased, so that no hope was left. The archbishop of Canterbury and I went to him on Saturday morning, and did not stir from him till he died. The archbishop prayed on Saturday some time with him, but he was then so weak that he could scarce speak, but gave him his hand, as a sign that he firmly believed the truth of the Christian religion, and said he intended to receive the sacrament. His reason and all his senses were entire to the last minute. About five in the morning he desired the sacrament, and went through the office with great appearance of seriousness, but could not express himself; when this was done, he called for the earl of Albemarle, and gave him a charge to take care of his papers. He thanked M. Auverquerque for his long and faithful services. He took leave of the duke of Ormond, and called for the earl of Portland, but before he came his voice quite failed; so he took him by the hand and carried it to his heart with great tenderness. He was often looking up to heaven in many short ejaculations. Between seven and eight o'clock the rattle began; the commendatory prayer was said to him, and as it ended he died, on Sunday, the 8th of March, in the fifty-second year of his age, having reigned thirteen years and a few days."

It was found on opening the body that he had had an adhesion of the lungs, which being torn from the side to which it had adhered by the fall from his horse, was the cause of his death. His head and heart were sound, but he had scarcely any blood in his body.

In person William was of a spare frame, middle stature, and of a delicate constitution, being subject to an asthma and cough from his childhood, supposed to be the consequences of small-pox. He had an aquiline nose, clear, bright eyes, a finely-developed forehead, a grave aspect, and was very taciturn, except amongst his own immediate friends, who were almost all his own countrymen. His reserved and repellent manner gave great offence to his English courtiers and nobles, and the lavish wealth which he heaped on his favourite Dutchmen heightened this feeling. He never liked Englishmen, and they never liked him. For his neglect to attach himself to the English there is, however, much excuse. The men about his court, and the very- party who brought him in, were a most selfish, rapacious, and unprincipled set. It is difficult to point to a truly noble and genuinely patriotic man amongst them. Perhaps the most unexceptionable were the earl of Devonshire and lord Somers; but the greater part of them were men whose chief object was self-aggrandisement, and the party fight which the two factions kept up around the throne, made it anything but an enviable seat. The peculation and jobbery in every department of the state were wholesale and unblushing, and the greater part of those who were ostensibly serving him and receiving his pay, were secretly engaged to his enemies, spies upon all his actions and intentions, and traitors, in a perpetual transmission of his projects to the court of his deadly foes. The forbearance which he constantly manifested towards those despicable men, was something admirable and almost superhuman. Though he was well aware of their treason, he still employed and endeavoured to conciliate them. With a cold exterior, William was far from destitute of affection. This he showed in the confidence with which he intrusted the government to his wife in his absence, and in his passionate grief for her death. This was also manifested in his warm and unshaken attachment to the friends who had shared his fortunes, spoke his tongue, knew his whole mind and nature, and served him with a fidelity, amid an age of treachery and a court of deep corruption, which has nothing more beautiful in history.

As a monarch William conferred the most solid advantages on this country, but at the same time he entailed upon it evils of the most gigantic magnitude. He was the first monarch for many centuries who was a genuine friend to constitutional liberty. None of our native kings since Alfred displayed the same disinterested and magnanimous regard for the rights and freedom of the nation. By his manly pride, as well as by his liberal mind, he broke the fatal chain of the divine right of kings, and freely consented to the establishment of a new charter in the Bill of Rights, which was more complete than Magna Charta itself. It must be recorded, to the eternal honour of William III., that he on no occasion betrayed the slightest desire to encroach on the privileges of the people - a striking spectacle after the obstinate and pertinacious endeavour of the four last kings of the race of Stuart to crush every liberty of the people. Nor must we even forget that to William we owe our religious as well as our civil liberty. To him we owe the act of toleration, which put an end to the frightful scenes of blood, of fire, of incarceration in the most hideous of dungeons, of the plunder of property, and the insults and injuries to the person, which had disgraced the reign of the Stuarts. We should have had still a greater religious freedom if he could have had his own way. But he had to contend with a high church party which loved dominion, and was on the highway to popish ceremony and despotism over souls till it got a fright from popish James; he had also to contend with a hard and equally intolerant presbyterianism in Scotland. Yet, though he could not utterly extirpate the rank and poisonous weeds of religious intolerance, he mowed them down, and laid bare their roots, for us gradually to dig out. He relieved the quakers from their subjection to oaths, giving them the credit for men being bound by more binding principles. These were inestimable blessings, noble gifts to a nation that did not love him, and which pointed to a still higher path of policy which succeeding ages might ascend.

But the great fault of William was his ambition to be the arbiter of the destinies of the continental nations. No doubt that he was sincere in his belief that the happiness of those destinies lay in the balance of national powers there. No doubt but that he firmly believed that Louis XIV., without his exertions and the employment of the wealth and force of England, would tread the whole continent under his feet, and put out the light of liberty and the sacred exercise of mind. It must be conceded, moreover, that his ambition was a generous ambition, that his views and desires and labours were in favour of the rights, creeds, and happiness of mankind. But, notwithstanding all this, the system which he inaugurated, of this country taking the lead in the quarrels of the continental nations, was a fatal system, and one which has heaped loads of debt on this country, caused rivers of its blood to flow, without producing one of those benefits to the nations for which it was introduced, which he or his successors promised to themselves or to the nations. The perpetual cry has been, Will you suffer your neighbour nations to be overrun by an unprincipled tyrant? and the result of the stupendous efforts to prevent this catastrophe has put them under the feet of a score of unprincipled tyrants. At this moment, after all our wars from the time of William, behold the whole of Europe ruled, not by free constitutions, but by thousands of cannon and myriads of bayonets. We need not waste arguments upon this topic; the miserable result supersedes all argument.

The whole of those wars which have succeeded the reign of William, triumphantly established the great fact which the tories in William's time contended for, had they but contended honestly - that England has a more noble, philanthropic, and sublime mission than that of wasting her energies in fighting the battles of the continent; that providence has placed her on the seas to be the friend and succour of the civilised world, not by fighting, but by trading, and being ready at all times to offer her services, not to promote contentions, but to restore peace, and when she cannot do that, to alleviate by her wealth their distresses. From age to age the grand truth has become ever more conspicuous - that nations, if they are to be free, must wrestle out their own freedom. The nations of the continent are numerous enough and powerful enough to combine against any one ambitious aggressor, and till they are prepared to do that, no external aid can do it for them. Let us now for a moment contemplate the awful result of our endeavours, for one hundred and fifty years, to do that for the continental nations which they alone could and yet can do for themselves. Let us survey, with an instructive spirit, the results to ourselves of William's system of continental interference.

One of the very first consequences of William's war for the balance of power on the continent was to destroy the balance of our accounts at home. In the eighth year of his reign, 1696, Iiis ministers proposed the sure and bold scheme of creating a debt, that of forestalling the year's revenue by borrowing money upon state counters or exchequer bills, bearing interest, and secured upon supplies raised in succeeding sessions. That first war cost 80,000 Englishmen, and 36,000,000, of which the interest of 20,000,000 borrowed at 3½ per cent., has now cost this country more than 200,000,000. The war of the Spanish succession, just commencing at William's death, lasted seven years, and cost 250,000 Englishmen, and 62,500,000 of money, of which 32,500,000 was borrowed and added to the debt, and has cost this country in interest more than 150,000,000. We are still paying for that war alone, and our children will have to pay it after us 1,525,000 a year. With the accession of the Georges, the system of continental interference was pursued. We had to defend a much less important piece of land than Holland, namely, Hanover, and, as it turned out, at an infinitely greater cost.

By these first wars, and the system they established, we went on to assist Hanover in fighting against Frederick, called the great of Prussia, and in fighting another war with Spain, which cost 54,000,000, and its interest has cost upwards of 100,000,000. The wars thus waged against France led her to retaliation, and she assisted the United States to deprive us of these states in a war which cost us 136,000,000, and the interest of which has cost us nearly 200,000,000. Thus, by endeavouring to save Holland originally, by this system of interference, we eventually lost America. Then came the great revolutionary war against France, in pursuance of this same system of continental interference, which cost us before Bonaparte was put down 2,220,000,000, a sum which actually stuns the imagination. In short, these wars, thus inaugurated by William III., and descending from each other by a clear logical succession, have cost us more than 3,500,000,000 in principal and interest, and 1,820,000 lives of our countrymen, besides the awful numbers that have fallen on the other side. The contemplation of this terrible picture of human destitution and misery should lead us to reflect well on the folly of attempting to regulate the affairs of the continent by our guns and swords, but to leave the continental powers to settle their own disputes. Our reward has been the hatred of the whole continent, the crushing weight of this enormous debt, for which we are called yearly to pay twenty-eight millions interest, and the mortification of seeing the whole continent in the worst and most miserable condition of political slavery that can be conceived. In weighing, therefore, the benefits and the evils which we received at the hands of king William, whilst we gratefully acknowledge the freedom which we achieved through him, we must sorrowfully remember, too, the heavy debt which he prepared for us, and the crimes and the bloodshed which he led us to perpetrate, and the slavery which he has induced us to perpetuate in all the continental states, by supporting the tottering thrones of their tyrants. There is no reign in our annals more pregnant with political suggestions of profound import.

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