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Chapter XI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 3


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"My dear Sir, - The only ill effect of my attendance in the house of commons on Thursday was a sleepless night, a grievance which I do not remember to have experienced to the same degree before. I was not feverish; I was not exhausted; I was not even tired; and I can generally get to sleep, putting aside whatever is upon my mind; but Thursday night I could not. I felt as if every limb, from top to toe, was alive like an eel; and I lay all night, not tossing and tumbling, but as broad awake as if; it were mid-day. The consequence was, that I kept quiet at home (by Holland's advice) all yesterday, and did not go to the house of commons, for which reason I have not written to his majesty; perhaps you will have the kindness to explain why. I am quite well this morning, having (by order) dined more liberally yesterday, and drank a little more wine, and afterwards slept like a top from eleven to seven. - Ever most sincerely yours, George Canning."

The new premier, however, was resolute, and persevered with his arrangements. He found an excellent successor to lord Eldon, as chancellor, in Sir John Copley, the master of the rolls, who was created lord Lyndhurst, and who long survived among us, the venerable Nestor of the house of peers. Mr. Peel, as home secretary, was succeeded by Mr. Sturges Bourne, who retired after a few weeks to make way for the marquis of Lansdowne. The duke of Clarence succeeded lord Melville as first lord of the admiralty, and the marquis of Anglesey the duke of Wellington as master general of the ordnance. Viscount Palmerston was appointed the secretary at war, with which office he commenced his long, brilliant, and popular career as a cabinet minister. The new master of the rolls was Sir John Leech, the attorney-general Sir James Scarlett, and the solicitor-general Sir N. Tindal. Mr. Lamb, afterwards lord Melbourne, succeeded Mr. Goulburn as chief secretary of Ireland.

These three events - the death of the duke of York, the appointment of Mr. Canning as prime minister, and the entire remodelling of the cabinet on liberal principles - succeeding one another so rapidly in the early months of 1827, were regarded as the turning points in the modern history of England, and fraught with vast consequences in future times. The first changed the heir-apparent to the throne, and for an obstinate bigot substituted a prince of popular sympathies. The second represented the triumph of intellect and public opinion over rank and monopoly. "Changes so vast,' writes Sir Archibald Alison, "could not fail to exercise a powerful influence on the course of events in future times. The magnitude of the change appeared in the most decided manner, when the ministerial explanations usual in such cases took place in parliament. Both houses were crowded to excess, both in the highest degree excited, but the excitement in the two was as different as the poles are asunder: in the commons it was the triumph of victory, in the peers the consternation of defeat. So clearly was this evinced, that it obliterated for a time the deep lines of party distinction, and brought the two houses, almost as hostile bodies united under different standards, into the presence of each other. The commons rang with acclamations when the new premier made his triumphant explanation from the head of the ministerial bench; but they were still louder when Mr. Peel, from the cross benches, out of office, said, " They may call me illiberal and tory, but it will be found that some of the most necessary measures of useful legislation of late years are inscribed with my name." The tide of reform had become so strong that even the avowed tory leaders in the lower house were fain to take credit by sailing along with it. In the house of lords, on the other hand, the feeling of the majority was decidedly hostile to the new administration, and that not merely on the tory benches, where it might naturally have been looked for, but among the old whig nobility, who had long considered government as an appendage of their estates. It was hard to say whether the old peers on both sides responded more strongly to the duke of Wellington and lord Eldon's explanation of their reasons for declining to hold office, or to earl Grey's powerful and impassioned attack on the new premier. The division of the two houses was clearly pronounced; the one presaged its approaching triumph, the other its coming downfall. The secret sense of coming change had raised their numbers in unwonted combinations, and the vital distinction of interest and order had for the time superseded the old divisions of party."

Mr. Canning had now attained the highest summit to which the ambition of a British subject can aspire. With the acclamation of the country and of the house of commons, he had taken the first place in the government of the empire, to which he had raised himself by his talents and his merit alone, surmounting as he rose the most formidable impediments, aristocratic antipathies, class interests, and royal dislike. He was the idol of the nation, and not only in Great Britain, but throughout the world, his fame shone brightest of all the public men of his age. His name was associated with the triumph of liberal principles throughout Europe and America; he was at the head of a strong government, and he had conciliated the good will of his sovereign. Such a combination of what are usually regarded as the elements of human happiness has rarely, if ever, been known in the history of England, where alone such a phenomenon could occur. As a man of genius, as an orator, as a political leader, he enjoyed a reputation and a degree of success which in any one of these capacities would be regarded by the majority of men as the acme of human felicity. But in addition to these he enjoyed a position and wielded a power with which many great men have been content, without the brilliant halo of glory with which, in Canning's case, they were surrounded. But it is a singular and humbling illustration of the vanity of human wishes and human glory, that this great man was, after all, unhappy, and that the political enemies he had vanquished had the power of bringing him to an early grave. The whig and tory lords studied in every way to wound the proud spirit, which they knew to be extremely sensitive. They scowled upon him, with looks of resentment and vengeance. Old friends averted their eyes from the affectionate companion of earlier days; the cordial pressure of his hand was not returned; his associates and supporters in office and in parliament were, for the most part, his former opponents in many a political battle-field. The odium of being a convert to liberal principles settled upon his noble spirit like a fatal blight, the animosity with which intolerance pursues the honest and generous lover of truth and right pierced his susceptible nervous system like a keen, pitiless, persistent east wind. This was more than his delicate organism could long bear. The state of his mind affected his bodily health. The charm of his conversation made him the delight of his friends in private society, in which he found a solace, and a welcome relaxation from the toils of office. It was natural, though to be regretted, that with such a susceptible, enjoying, and genial temperament, delighting in wit and humour, and diffusing pleasure around him by the coruscations of his own genius, he should have lingered longer in convivial parties than was prudent for his health. The consequence was, an inflamed and irritable state of the system. Thus predisposed to disease, he caught cold by sitting under a tree, after being heated with walking, while on a visit with lord Lyndhurst at Wimbledon. Attacked with inflammation of the kidneys, he went to Chiswick, on the recommendation of his medical advisers, and there, after a brief period of intense suffering, he died in the villa of the duke of Devonshire, and in the same room in which a man of kindred genius, the illustrious Charles James Fox, breathed his last.

Mr. Canning was born in the parish of Marylebone, of parents who were unable to give him anything but a superior education, which he obtained at Eton, where he was distinguished by his talents, his taste for literary composition, and his assiduity in his studies. It was there he formed the friendship with young Jenkinson, afterwards lord Liverpool, to which he owed his first introduction to the cabinet. He was also acquainted with Sheridan, through whom he had much intercourse with the whigs, which partly accounts for the liberal tendencies of his mind. In 1793 he entered the house of commons as member for Newport, a government borough. In 1799 he married a daughter of general Scott, with a fortune of 100,000. He rendered effective support to Pitt during the war, both by his brilliant speeches in parliament, and his vigorous writing in the " Anti-Jacobin." He had much wit, and a great command of the weapons of ridicule and invective. He had once a quarrel with lord Castlereagh, with whom he fought a duel, but they were reconciled, and Mr. Canning subsequently accepted a subordinate office under that minister. He had damaged his political reputation by his apparent truckling for office, strenuous support of the Six Acts, and his contemptuous treatment of the question of parliamentary reform; but he redeemed his character by the manly part he took in refusing to participate in the proceedings against queen Caroline, in consequence of which he resigned his office, though his colleagues would have allowed him to be neutral on the subject. He was about, as we have seen, to embark for India as governor- general, when the death of lord Londonderry placed the secretaryship of foreign affairs at his disposal; and the illness of lord Liverpool following soon after, enabled him to seize the prize of the premiership. He had represented Liverpool for many years, and that city was so proud of him that no other candidate, however popular, could succeed in depriving him of his seat, though the attempt was four times made. He was considered vain and arrogant by his colleagues in office, some of whom regarded him with ill-suppressed feelings of envy and dislike. Among the faults of his political career were his opposition to parliamentary reform and his indiscreet declaration against the dissenters. He had not the solidity and weight necessary to be the successful leader of a party. There was more of brilliancy than power in his intellect. He united in an eminent degree, with high political ability, the accomplishments of scholarship, the graces of a manly bearing, elegant manners, personal advantages, an affectionate disposition, a forgiving temper, and a conciliatory address. His eloquence was not of the deep, strong, impetuous order, like that of Fox, nor profoundly philosophical, rich in thought, and gorgeous in illustration, like Burke's; but it was correct, copious, classically ornate, singularly felicitous in diction, charming by its beauties of style and by the amusing display of ridicule and humour. His conceptions were sometimes peculiarly grand and beautiful, but they were more the play of a fine fancy than the inventions of an original genius. He was an accomplished rhetorician rather than a vigorous reasoner; deficient in creative power, but abounding in the gifts which embellish and adorn. He died in the fifty-seventh year of his age, on the 8th of August, 1827. He requested that his funeral might be private, but his hearse was followed to Westminster Abbey by a large concourse of the nobility and gentry of all parties, as well as an immense crowd of people, anxious to testify their respect to the memory of one of England's most illustrious statesmen. The grief for his death was not confined to his own countrymen. Wherever men had struggled successfully for freedom, wherever nations had won their independence, or still groaned under the yoke of despotism, wherever the Holy Alliance was hated and feared, wherever philanthropists sighed for the time when the intercourse of nations would be unrestricted by navigation laws, and the progress of society would be unobstructed by class interests and monopolies, the death of Canning was deplored as a great calamity, not for England only, but for the civilised world.

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