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1763. JOHN WILKES. 17
subject or the speaker unworthy of attention, — but at the word “contempt” he turned round, and made a marked and sarcastic bow to his foaming kinsman, – “the most con“temptuous look and manner that I ever saw,” says Mr. Rigby, who was present.* This scene fixed on Grenville during several years “the Gentle Shepherd” as a nick-name, which in the opinion of those who used it had the more point and pungency from the contrast between the pastoral character in poetry and his own starched and ungainly mien. During the progress of the Cyder Bill in the House of Commons there were many divisions taken against it, but in spite of all the clamour out of doors, the Opposition could never muster so many as 120 votes. In the Upper House it drew forth keen attacks from Lords Hardwicke, Lyttleton, and Temple; and thirty-nine Peers recorded their votes against it; the first time it is said when that branch of the Legislature ever divided on a money-Bill. At the beginning of April the tax on cyder had become the law of the land; the other business of the Session was also well-nigh completed, and a prorogation without any further political event was speedily expected. Meanwhile, from several other quarters, and on many other grounds, the clamours against Lord Bute rose higher and higher. A swarm of libellers had closed upon him, ready with their buzz and sting, and each no sooner flapped away than thirsting to come back. Foremost among these stood John Wilkes, a name which, partly from his own skill and boldness, but much more from the ill-judged resentment which he provoked, will often re-occur in the course of this History as the object of popular admiration and applause. He was born in 1727, the son of a rich distiller. Early in life he set up a brewery for himself, but soon relinquished the wearisome business. Early in life also he improved his fortune by his marriage with the daughter and heiress of Mr. William Mead, a rich drysalter.** But this lady, being * Bedford Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 219. ** In the sketch of Wilkes's Life, to be found in the Ann. Register 1797. Mahon, History. W. 2
of maturer age than himself, and of slight personal attractions, was speedily slighted, and he left her with as much disgust as he had his brewery. In 1757 he was elected Member of Parliament for Aylesbury, but never obtained any success as an orator, his speeches being, though flippant, yet feeble. In truth he had no great ability of any kind, but dauntless courage and high animal spirits. Nor should we deny him another much rarer praise, – a vein of good humour and kindliness which did not forsake him through all his long career, amidst the riot of debauchery or the rancour of faction. So agreeable and insinuating was his conversation that more than one fair dame as she listened found herself forget his sinister squint and his illfavoured countenance. He used to say of himself in a laughing strain, that though he was the ugliest man in England, he wanted nothing to make him even with the handsomest but half an hour at starting. Politics indeed seemed at first wholly alien from Wilkes's sphere; gaiety and gallantry were his peculiar objects. For some time he reigned the oracle of green rooms and the delight of taverns. In conjunction with other kindred spirits, as Paul Whitehead and Sir Francis Dashwood, amounting in all to twelve, he rented Medmenham Abbey, near Marlow. It is a secluded and beautiful spot on the banks of the Thames, with hanging woods that slope down to the crystal stream, a grove of venerable elms, and meadows of the softest green. In days of old it had been a convent of Cistertian monks, but the new brotherhood took the title of Franciscans in compliment to Sir Francis Dashwood, whom they called their Father Abbot. On the portal, now again in ruins, and once more resigned to its former solitude and silence, I could still a few years since read the inscription placed there by Wilkes and his friends: FAY CE 1763. THE “NoFTH BRITON.” - 19
p. 370., this lady is erroneously called the daughter of the celebrated Dr. Mead, the author of the Treatise on Poisons. Dr. Mead had only two ** the one married to Dr. Wilmot, and the other to Dr. Nicholls. (1853.)
QUE voudras.” Other French and Latin inscriptions, now with good reason effaced, then appeared in other parts of the grounds, some of them remarkable for wit, but all for either profaneness or obscenity, and many the more highly applauded as combining both.** In this retreat the new Franciscans used often to meet for summer pastimes, and varied the round of their debauchery by a mock celebration of the principal Roman Catholic rites. The pleasures of Wilkes combined with his election contests in 1757 and 1761 to embarrass his affairs. As Member for Aylesbury he had formed a political connection with the Lord Lieutenant of the county, Earl Temple, and had received from him the appointment of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Buckinghamshire regiment of Militia. Through the same patronage he looked forward to some more lucrative post, — the embassy of Constantinople perhaps, or the government of Canada. But he found his applications slighted by the influence, as he believed, of Lord Bute, and in October 1761 the secession of Pitt and Temple from the Government annihilated the source of his hopes. Seeing that he could not be a placeman, he resolved to be a patriot. His first performance was a tract on the recent negotiations with Spain, and in June 1762 he began conjointly with Churchill the publication of the celebrated periodical paper —the “North Briton.” In this, as I have elsewhere shown”, he manifested a fierce and persevering hostility, not only against Lord Bute, but against the whole Scottish people. He had to compete with two rival papers on the opposite side, – the “Briton” conducted by Smollett, and the “Auditor” conducted by Murphy, - but Wilkes, being by far the more vituperative and unreasonable, speedily obtained the larger share of the popular favour.
* Copied from the Abbey of Theleme in Rabelais. See Book i. ch. 57. ** These are transcribed and described (from the pen, as is alleged, of Wilkes himself,) in the “Foundling Hospital for Wit,” vol. iii. p. 104— 108. In like manner Sir Francis Dashwood had set up in his garden at West Wycombe two urns, sacred to the Ephesian widow and to Potiphar's wife. with the inscriptions: MATRoNAE EPHESIAE cineREs. Dominae Poti PHAR CINERE8. *** Vol. iv. of this History, p. 269. On Wilkes's general character see the sketch in the Annual Register, 1797, p. 369., and the article by M. Dezos de la Roquette in the Biographie Universelle.
On this subject, as on many others, the demeanour of Pitt was in striking contrast to that of Lord Temple. Seldom have two such near kinsmen, and for the most part friends, differed so essentially in temper and feeling. Of Lord Temple it was currently believed, if not as yet certainly known, that he continued in secret his amicable connection with Wilkes, viewed him as an excellent instrument of Opposition, and connived at, may even prompted and encouraged, the most rancorous productions of his pen. Pitt, on the other hand, lofty and unbending as ever, publicly denounced as false and calumnious these insults on the Scots, asserted their merits even at the height of their unpopularity in England, and prided himself on having been the means, by the Highland regiments which he had raised, of reclaiming so many brave and loyal spirits to the service of the Crown.
Up to this time it had been usual for pamphleteers and satirists in England to carry on their warfare against the initials only of the great men whom they assailed. The North Briton first departed from this practice, and ventured to print at full length even the redoubted names of Lord Bute and his Royal Master. Slight as this change may be deemed, there was in it an appearance of boldness such as will always attract attention and often win support. Nor did Wilkes's political opponents find their former friendship with him afford any immunity from his attacks. Thus the Abbot of Medmenham was most unsparingly lashed as soon as he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. With some others, as with Lord Talbot, Wilkes embroiled himself needlessly and wantonly. Lord Talbot was son of the late Chancellor, and had been recently promoted to an Earldom; a man of no mean ability in public life, but, like Wilkes himself, of licentious morals in private. Twenty years before, when already married, he had borne off from
1763. CHARGES AGAINST LORD BUTE. 21
her husband the beautiful Duchess of Beaufort.” He was now held up to ridicule by Wilkes for inordinate flattery, on the ground that when officiating at the late Coronation as Lord High Constable, and having to appear on horseback in Westminster Hall, he had backed his horse to the gate that he might not turn his own back upon the King. The fiery Peer sent a challenge to the careless libeller, and there ensued a duel between them by moon-light on Bagshot Heath. Neither fire took effect, and the conflict ended in compotation. According to Wilkes's own account, drawn up the next day: “His Lordship desired that we might now “be good friends and retire to the inn to drink a bottle of “claret together, which we did with great humour and much “laugh.” It was part of Wilkes's character to be animated by the notoriety of such collisions rather than deterred by their danger. Through all the debates on the Cyder Bill, through all the negotiations for the definitive treaty of peace, he continued to rail in the bitterest terms against the Favourite. “The great cry against Lord Bute,” writes Chesterfield, “was upon account of his being a Scotchman, the only fault “which he could not possibly correct.”* But besides this original crime, there was urged against him the further fault of undue preference and partiality to his countrymen. Thus Ramsay, a Scotchman, had been named the Court painter, in preference to Reynolds. Thus Adam, another Scotchman, had been named the Court architect, and was accused of bringing several hungry kinsmen in his train.” Why, it was asked, should we show so much partiality to Scotchmen while Scotchmen show so little to us, - while
* H. Walpole to Sir H. Mann, June 10. 1742. This Duchess was the daughter and heiress of the last Lord Scudamore. ** Characters, as printed in Correspond., vol. ii. p. 473. ed. 1845. ### “‘Four Scotchmen, by the name of Adam, “‘Who keep their coaches and their Madam,” “Quoth John in sulky mood to Thomas, “‘Have stole the very river from us.” See the “Foundling Hospital for Wit,” vol. iv. p. 189. Robert Adam had plan#. the Adelphi Buildings, which were thought to encroach upon the aul CŞ.