Page images

Not merely Admirals and Captains took part in these discussions. The attack against Lord Sandwich was headed by Fox in the House of Commons. In his speeches he proceeded to the most violent extremes. The First Lord of the Admiralty, cried he, has driven from the service both Admiral Keppel and Lord Howe; he is a worse traitor to his country than even Jack the Painter! Fox even went the length of moving, in express terms, that Lord Sandwich might be dismissed from His Majesty's presence and councils for ever; and Lord Bristol renewed that motion in the House of Peers. Lord Sandwich found it necessary to remind his accusers that though he was solely responsible for the equipment, he was not solely, but jointly, responsible for the employment, of the naval force, which was decided in the Cabinet, and finally sanctioned by the King. The motions against him might be, and they were, rejected by large majorities; still, however, the invectives of the Opposition leaders could not fail to make a gradual impression on the public. Several officers of rank, besides Lord Keppel, declared that they would not serve under the present Ministers. Nor were such feelings of dissatisfaction confined to the highest class. Before the close of the Session symptoms, though happily suppressed, of mutiny had appeared on board the fleet in the Channel.

Symptoms of insubordination, though from another cause, showed themselves in Scotland also. Riots took place both at Edinburgh and at Glasgow in January and February of this year, against the Roman Catholics, real or reputed. Their houses were assailed, their furniture broken, their lives threatened, their persons insulted. At Edinburgh the popular indignation was more es

For the Letter to the King, in March, 1779, as derived from Lord St. Vincent's MSS., see vol. ii. p. 221., and for the Letter from the Board of Admiralty, p. 227. Keppel was, beyond all doubt, a good officer and a highly honourable man, yet perhaps his fame with posterity will mainly rest on the sister arts of painting and poetry— on those two most noble portraits by Reynolds, the one inherited by Earl Fitzwilliam, the other purchased at Christie's for 500/. by the late Sir Robert Peel — and on that description of his character, rich with all the hues of imagery, and suggested by the former of those very pictures, in Burke's " Letter to a Noble Lord."

pecially directed by hand-bills against what was termed "that Pillar of Popery" — a new-built house, namely, in Leith Wynd, containing a room for Roman Catholic worship. The house was accordingly set on fire, and the inhabitants scarce escaped with their lives. In some of these cases the magistrates are accused of culpable remissness, as though their own sympathies were rather with the perpetrators than with the victims of the No Popery outrages. Soon afterwards, in the House of Commons, Wilkes inquired of the Lord Advocate, Henry Dundas, what had become of his promised Bill for the relief of the Roman Catholics north of Tweed. Dundas answered frankly and fairly that he had dropped it for the present at the request of the Roman Catholics them 'selves, who dreaded that it might become the handle of further persecution. Concessions like these to unreasonable clamour may be needful from the temper of the times, but even then they leave no party satisfied, and far from quenching they only add fuel to the flame. Throughout Scotland the Protestant Association and Corresponding Committees gained strength and confidence; and they elected for their President Lord George Gordon. Henceforth, then, the silly ravings of that young nobleman in the House of Commons became important on account of the tens of thousands of followers who, as he boasted, were ready at his call. One of his favourite topics was to declare, or to insinuate, that King George the Third was at heart a Papist! By his exertions a Protestant Association, with Corresponding Committees, was formed in England also, and of these, as of the Scottish, Lord George was chosen President. Great evils might be expected, and next year did ensue, from so turbulent a body joined to so weak a head. Looking then to this outbreak of fanaticism, both in Scotland and in England—beholding, likewise, the rising commercial discontents among the Irish, and the germ of their Volunteer Associations — it might be said at this juncture that there was no single province of the British empire, far or near, which did not afford just ground for most grave anxiety.

Early in the year the Government endeavoured to strengthen itself by the accession of what had been Lord Chatham's party; Lord North himself to retire. An overture was made by Lord Weymouth and the Chancellor to the Duke of Grafton, Lord Shelburne, and Lord Camden. They answered in writing on the 3rd of February, that it was impossible for them to come into office unless the Marquis of Rockingham and the Duke of Richmond were first consulted. Upon this they heard nothing further from the Ministers. The Duke of Grafton adds in his Memoirs: — " This circumstance cemented "the Opposition into a more solid body, and furnished "the means, that Lord Camden and I improved, by per"suading Lord Shelburne not to contest with Lord "Rockingham the Treasury, in case a new administration "was to be formed. Lord Shelburne yielded the point "with a better grace than I had expected."

In another respect, however, the Government did gain strength by the great ascendancy which their new Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, had almost from the first acquired in the House of Peers. Few of their Lordships at that time could cope with that most vigorous intellect, or confront that awful frown. An ill-judged attempt by the Duke of Richmond to subvert his influence served, on the contrary, to establish and confirm it. The Duke took occasion to taunt him with the lowness of his birth, upon which Lord Thurlow, with admirable good sense and spirit, burst forth as follows: — "I am amazed at the "attack the Noble Duke has made on me. Yes, my "Lords," here he raised his voice to its loudest tones, "I "am amazed at his Grace's speech. The Noble Duke "cannot look before him, behind him, or on either side of "him, without seeing some Noble Peer who owes his seat "in this House to successful exertions in the profession "to which I belong. Does he not feel that it is as "honourable to owe it to these as to being the accident "of an accident? To all these Noble Lords the language "of the Noble Duke is as applicable and as insulting as "it is to myself. But I do not fear to meet it single and "alone. No one venerates the Peerage more than I do; "but, my Lords, I must say that the Peerage solicited "me, not I the Peerage. Nay, more I can say, and will "say, that,— as a Peer of Parliament,— as Speaker of "this Right Honourable House,—as Keeper of the Great "Seal,— as Guardian of His Majesty's conscience,— as "Lord High Chancellor of England, — nay, even in that "character alone in which the Noble Duke would think "it an affront to be considered, as a Man,—I am at this "moment as respectable,— I beg leave to add, I am at "this moment as much respected,—as the proudest Peer "I now look down upon!" All this time the Chancellor fixed full upon the Duke the look of Jove when he grasped the thunder. Mr. Charles Butler, who was an ear and eye witness to this speech, declares, that its effect was prodigious; investing, as it did, Lord Thurlow with a character of manly independence, it made him for a long time to come paramount among the Peers, and to the last a favourite with the people.*

Before the close of the Session another Foreign Power had joined the league against us. This was Spain. For many months the most active preparations had been making in herports and arsenals. For many months King George had foreseen, that in all probability a declaration of war would follow in the spring.f Still, however, the Spanish ambassador, at St. James's, the Marquis d'Almodovar, continued friendly in his language. He declared, that the most earnest wish of his Royal master was not only to remain at peace himself, but to promote peace among others. With this view he offered his mediation to both his good brothers of France and of England, now unhappily estranged. The answer of the British Government was clear and simple. Let France withdraw all assistance from America, and the King would be ready to re-establish amity. On the other hand, the French insisted that Great Britain should acknowledge the independence of their new American allies. To reconcile such jarring pretensions seemed no easy task. As an accommodating expedient, the King of Spain proposed a truce of twenty-five or thirty years, or for an

* Writing from recollection, or by a slip of the pen, Mr. Butler appears to have confounded the Dukes of Grafton and of Richmond, both equally sprung from Charles the Second, or, in Thurlow's phrase, "the accident of an accident." Compare the Reminiscences, vol. i. p. 180., with the Parl. Hist., vol. xx. p. 582., the date of the speech being June 14. 1779. f Letter to Lord North, October 13. 1778. indefinite term, during which a peace might be negotiated. This proposal, as plainly disadvantageous to us, we declined. An exchange of notes upon the subject was kept up through the winter, but led to no result. By that time the naval and military preparations of the Spaniards were completed. Then the Marquis d'Almodovar, to his own surprise, received some new instructions, in pursuance of which he quitted London without taking leave; first however, on the 16th of June delivering to Lord Weymouth a state-paper, amounting to a declaration of War. The King directed that copies of this Declaration should be laid before both Houses, stating, at the same time, in his Royal Message, that he firmly relied on the zeal and public spirit of his Parliament.

It was felt, however, by the principal politicians beyond the Channel, that there was something glaringly and manifestly false, nay, even almost ludicrous, in the pretended zeal of two despotic Monarchies for the new-born liberty of the American Republic. Other motives to justify their conduct against England must be found or framed. Accordingly, there was published at Madrid another and longer Manifesto, containing an elaborate statement of the grievances of Spain during the last few years, as violations of her territory in the Bay of Honduras, and various insults or interruptions to her trade. At Paris a similar Manifesto of wrongs on the part of France was put forth at nearly the same time. The last of these documents drew from the British Ministry an answer, not, indeed, official, but showing, with cogent reasons and in eloquent language, the ill-faith upon the other side; for this "Justifying Memorial," as it was termed, the pen of Gibbon was employed.

With this league of Foreign Powers against us,—with projects of invasion loudly vaunted and near impending, — it became needful to provide most vigorous measures for defence. It cannot be said that the Ministers, obstructed as they were by political opponents, showed themselves wanting in their duty at this crisis. They proposed and passed (though not without some curtailment in the Lords*) an Act for augmenting the Militia. They

* On this occasion of the Peers' amendments, Lord North said in the Commons: "He wished most heartily the whole Bill had been

« PreviousContinue »