Page images


spring advanced he retired to a house at Hampstead, and was able at intervals to take the air upon the heath, but was still at all times inaccessible to all his friends. His illness was of course no secret to his enemies, who conjectured that he must speedily quit either his post or the world; to them it little mattered which. The utter secession of Lord Chatham from his own government broke the mainspring by which that government had moved. Even during his earlier periods of office his ascendency had been very far greater than most Prime Ministers possess. The old Duke of Newcastle was wont to describe with comic terrors “the dread the whole Council “used to be in lest Mr. Pitt should frown!”* But at his last accession to power his ascendency was not only great but paramount; it was truly, as I just now termed it, the mainspring of the machine which alone could bring into harmonious action so many jarring parts. Even his retirement from the one House of Parliament to the other had been felt as a great blow to his colleagues, but how much greater still his retirement from all business and control! Then immediately the patchwork of administration loosened and rocked. Then indeed did that administration become what the caustic pen of Burke has afterwards so well described: “He (Lord Chatham) made an administration so chequered “and speckled; he put together a piece of joinery so crossly “indented and whimsically dovetailed; a Cabinet so variously “inlaid; such a piece of diversified mosaic; such a tesselated “pavement without cement, here a bit of black stone and “there a bit of white; patriots and courtiers; King's Friends “and Republicans; Whigs and Tories; treacherous friends “and open enemies, that it was indeed a very curious show, “but utterly unsafe to touch and unsure to stand on.”** Foremost among the Ministers Charles Townshend now broke loose from all restraint. He delivered in the House of Commons several speeches justly admired for their eloquence, and no less justly censured for their levity and wildness. One especially was called his “Champagne “speech,” because he had returned to make it from a convivial dinner-table. Horace Walpole who was present vividly describes it as “a torrent of wit, parts, humour, knowledge, “absurdity, vanity, and fiction, heightened by all the graces “of comedy, the happiness of allusion and quotation, and “the buffoonery of farce. To the purpose of the question “(the East Indian Inquiry) he said not a syllable. It was a “descant on the times, a picture of parties, of their leaders, “of their hopes and defects. It was an encomium and a satire “on himself; and he excited such murmurs of wonder, ad“miration, applause, laughter, pity, and scorn, that no“thing was so true as the sentence with which he concluded “when speaking of government; he said it was become what “he himself had often been called A weATHER-cock! — For “some days men could talk or inquire of nothing else. “Did “you hear Charles Townshend's Champagne speech?’ was “the universal question. For myself I protest it was the most “singular pleasure of the kind I ever enjoyed.”*

* Mr. Rigby to the Duke of Bedford, Oct. 18, 1761. Bedford Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 56.

* Speech on American Taxation, 1774,

It plainly appears that ever since Lord Chatham had left the House of Commons there was no man in that assembly who could either control or vie with Townshend. “He is the “orator, the rest are speakers,” remarks another of his hearers,”

As Chancellor of the Exchequer Townshend had been more than once taunted in the House of Commons with the necessity of providing in some manner for the loss occasioned by the reduction of the Land Tax. In one of his rash and heedless moods he threw out a pledge in reply, that he would find

* Lord Orford's Memoirs of George III., vol. iii. p. 24., and note at p. 26. Sir George Colebrooke states in his MS. Memoirs, that he and another gentleman were the only persons who dined with Townshend that day, “and we had but one bottle of Champagne after dinner;” so that the speech was not, as supposed, a drunken one. Nor was it extemporaneous; "it was a speech he had meditated a great while upon, and only by accident

* did it find utterance that day.”
” Mr. H, Flood to Lord Charlemont, Nov. 1766,


means free from offence to raise some revenue from AmericaThat pledge he had given without the assent or knowledge of his colleagues, and in the teeth of their declared opinions. He now attempted to fulfil it, at least in name, by proposing certain small taxes on glass, paper, painters' colours, and tea, to be paid as import duties, and to bring in according to his own computation only from 35,000l. to 40,000l. a year. On this proposal Lord Chatham, as we have seen, could not even be consulted. Had he retained any degree of health it is clear that he would both have rejected the proposal and turned out the proposer. To the last Lord Camden protested against the scheme, though not pressing his resignation on that account. But the other Ministers and the Cabinet in general yielded a sullen and reluctant acquiescence, seeing no other alternative for them except the dismissal of Townshend, which in Lord Chatham's absence they durst not attempt.” The Acts for the purpose passed both Houses without opposition and almost without remark, since it was believed from Dr. Franklin's evidence of the preceding year that the Americans themselves acknowledged the laying on of Import Duties as an undoubted right of the British Parliament. Yet it might have been foreseen that, as really happened, the Americans would be emboldened by their recent victory to rise in their pretensions; that the new Import Duties would grow nearly as distasteful as the Stamp Act; and that the nice distinctions of Dr. Franklin as soon as they inconveniently pressed would be disavowed by his countrymen and renounced by himself. Two other transactions of the same period, and also relating to America, are likewise deserving of attention. The Assembly of Massachusetts had reluctantly complied with the requisition of the Secretary of State, Lord Shelburne, to award compensation to the sufferers in the recent riots, but had inserted a clause in their Bill granting a free pardon to the rioters. This clause was deemed an encroachment on the Constitutional rights of the Crown, and their Bill was accordingly annulled by an Order of the King in Council. In New York, as I have already related, the Assembly had presumed of their own authority to set aside the American Mutiny Act as fixed by Parliament. There were not wanting Members of Parliament to propose rigorous measures of coercion in return, but at length there was carried through a law which Lord Chatham's Ministry had framed, and which prohibited the Legislature of New York from passing any other Act for any purpose whatsoever till the terms of the American Mutiny Act should be complied with. This law, for the moderation of which the Duke of Grafton many years afterwards takes credit in his Memoirs, was thoroughly successful; it induced the Assembly of New York to desist from their pretensions, and concede the points required. Nor did the Session close without the passing of a measure relative to the East India Company. But that measure was no longer such as the genius of Chatham had shadowed forth,--such as that genius only could complete and mature. No sooner was it deprived of his vigorous aid than it became shorn of its fair proportions, and from a statesmanlike conception dwindled down to a petty compromise. The Directors were maintained for the next two years in their territorial possessions, they undertaking, in return, to pay 400,000l. each year towards the public service. By two other Acts it was sought to limit the exorbitant dividends of the Company, and to curtail the evil practice of creating fictitious votes at the India House. All this time the Opposition were not idle. They showed in several debates how far the secession of Lord Chatham had both inspired them with courage and endowed them with strength. In one debate in the House of Lords upon the Massachusetts Bill they reduced the Government to a majority of only two—65 against 63. Under such circumstances the Duke of Grafton harassed and perplexed earnestly implored by letter a few minutes' conversation with

* See in the Appendix to this volume an extract from the Duke of Grafton's MS. Memoirs (May 1767). See also the Cavendish Debates (vol. i. p. 213.), and the-solemn declaration of Lord Camden nine years afterwards in the House of Lords, (March 5, 1776, Parl. Hist, vol. xviii. p. 1222.)



Lord Chatham. He was again refused on the plea of continued illness; and then not knowing where else to turn, he conjointly with Lord Northington laid his difficulties fully and fairly before the King. The King had from the first dealt with the Prime Minister most frankly and most kindly. The Royal letters to him as since published display throughout the greatest esteem and respect for his high qualities, – the greatest anxiety to aid him in all his views and arrangements, – the greatest consideration and forbearance to him in his infirmities. No master more gracious and confiding could ever be desired by a subject. On this occasion, unwilling as His Majesty felt to break in upon Lord Chatham's illness, he wrote to him at some length, pointing out the imminence of the crisis, since the First Lord of the Treasury, the Lord President, and the Lord Chancellor had declared themselves on the point of resignation. A few words of counsel or direction might yet retain them. “If,” added His Majesty, “you “cannot come to me to-morrow, I am ready to call on you.” Then, and not till then, did the sick man agree to what he deemed the lesser evil or fatigue — a visit from the Duke of Grafton. He promised to receive his Grace on the morrow— Sunday the 31st of May, — and on the morrow accordingly his Grace appeared. An account of this interview so hardly obtained is given by the Duke of Grafton in his Memoirs. He states: “Though “I expected to find Lord Chatham very ill indeed, his situa“tion was different from what I had imagined. His nerves “and spirits were affected to a dreadful degree, and the “sight of his great mind bowed down and thus weakened by “disorder would have filled me with grief and concern even “if I had not long borne a sincere attachment to his person “and character. . . . . . The interview was truly painful.” — In the conversation of full two hours which took place Grafton explicitly declared all the difficulties of the Govern‘ment. In reply Chatham entreated him to remain in his present station, taking any method his Grace might think best

« PreviousContinue »