« PreviousContinue »
since the Union there can be named only one gentleman of English birth who has been elected Member for any place in Scotland?% On impartial examination, however, it will be found that the cases of national partiality in Lord Bute were by no means numerous, nor yet extending to the higher offices of state. Even his own private secretary — in which beyond all others a national or personal bias may be fairly indulged — was born south of Tweed. This was Mr. Charles Jenkinson, a man of slender patrimony, or, perhaps to speak more truly, of none at all, but who by his application and aptitude for state affairs gave lustre to his name. He did not fill any important post until the close of 1778, when he succeeded Lord Barrington as Secretary-at-War, and when the cry of secret influence, which had died away as regarded Lord Bute, was with little reason revived against him. But he rose at last to be Earl of Liverpool, and his son to be Prime Minister of England. The patronage of literature which Lord Bute had at his outset too ostentatiously professed was also in its exercise much inveighed against. The cavils indeed which at the time were numerous against Dr. Johnson's pension only recoil on those who uttered them. Never was any stipend more richly earned by literary merit, or more nobly employed in charitable deeds. But Lord Bute can scarcely be defended for having granted a similar pension to Shebbeare, or for having refused a professorship to Gray. Dr. Shebbeare was a hackney pamphleteer, who had once stood in the pillory for a libel on George the First, and had more recently been concerned in some fraudulent practices at Oxford when employed to arrange the Clarendon papers. Gray, who was not only a great poet but a most accomplished scholar, wished to be appointed Professor of Modern Languages at Cambridge, notwithstanding his
* Annual Register, 1770, p. 114. This single exception was Mr. Chauncy Townshend.
1763. STRETCHES OF PREROGATIVE. 23
avowed dislike of his academical associates.* But he found preferred to him an obscure tutor of Sir James Lowther, for no better reason apparently than because Sir James had lately married the eldest daughter of the Favourite. From several such appointments and selections, nearly all on the Tory side, not merely a Tory but even a Jacobite bias came to be imputed to Lord Bute. See, said his opponents in further proof, how graciously and warmly was received at Court the Address from the University of Oxford, – that University so notorious for its attachment to the exiled race of Stuart, — that University against which General Stanhope had to send a troop of horse!” Even Dr. King, well known as the Pretender's correspondent, has been admitted to kiss hands!” But then, asked the friends of Lord Bute with better reason, should no effort be made in a new reign to put an end to the unhappy divisions of the former? Ought not loyalty, however late, to be welcomed, nay invited? And why should cordiality to the lately Jacobite University of Oxford be held to imply coldness to the ever Hanoverian University of Cambridge? But far harder was the task of vindication when Lord Bute's friends heard him arraigned for wide stretches of prerogative and reckless arrogance of power. Thus, when three great Peers, the Dukes of Newcastle and Grafton and the Marquis of Rockingham, presumed to censure the terms of the Peace, they were dismissed from the Lords Lieutenancies of their several counties, – a most arbitrary proceeding, to which certain other dismissals after the Excise Bill of 1733 afforded neither a sufficient nor yet a successful precedent. It had been intended to put the same affront, and for the same cause, upon the Duke of Devonshire, “the Prince of the Whigs,” as the Princess Dowager sarcastically called him, but Fox, as an early and warm friend of his Grace, interposed. The Duke, however, who had been, it was said, personally disobliged by the King”, and who had already resigned his Lord Chamberlain's key, threw up his Lord Lieutenancy also, to share in the fate of his friends. It would have been well had Lord Bute waged this arbitrary warfare only against the great and powerful. But even the poor and lowly felt the full weight of his resentment. Inoffensive clerks in the public offices were dismissed from their employment merely because they had been, in the first instance, recommended to it by some statesmen adverse to the Peace. Several old servants of the Duke of Newcastle, who had retired and been preferred to shall places, were rigorously hunted out and deprived of their bread. A yeoman in Sussex, who had been rewarded with an office for his gallantry in a fight with some smugglers, was now treated as harshly as the smugglers themselves might have been, – discarded with compensation as an adherent of the Grafton family. The widow of an Admiral, who had enjoyed for many years in lieu of a pension the appointment of housekeeper at one of the public offices, now received notice to quit for no better reason than that she bore the name of Cavendish. In all these acts of harshness Fox, to the surprise of his friends, was more eager and forward than any other of his colleagues. “Fox has grossly deceived me,” said His Royal Highness of Cumberland to Lord Waldegrave. “I do not “mean by giving me up, but I thought him good-natured, “and yet in all these transactions he has shown the bitterest “revenge and inhumanity.” Nay more, had Fox's wish prevailed the proscription would have been carried further still. He observed that some of the great patent places — as the Auditorships and the Justices of Eyre — were held by
* “Cambridge is a delight of a place now there is nobody in it! I do “believe you would like it if you knew what it was without inhabitants.” Gray to Dr. Clarke, August 12. 1760. The account of his disappointment in the affair of the professorship is given by himself, with great temper and good humour, in his letter to Dr. Warton of December 4. 1762. ** See vol. i. p. 165. *** Dr. King's Anecdotes of his own Time, p. 190.
* See in my Appendix the statement of the scene of October 28. 1762, as given by Lord John Cavendish. It is derived from the MS. Memoirs of the Duke of Grafton, — a curious and valuable document, which has been most kindly placed in my hands by his grandson, the present Duke,
1763. LORD BUTE BURNED IN EFFIGY. 25
men at that time in Opposition, and he caused a question to be put to Lord Chancellor Henley, whether the King could not cancel the patents granted in the last reign, and whether a case to that effect might not be laid before the twelve Judges. The Chancellor, who was bold and blunt, and was also, perhaps, as Horace Walpole intimates, “prophetically “affectionate to grants for life, so heaped upon him after“wards,” answered roughly: “Aye, they may lay the idea “before the Judges, and refer Magna Charta to them after“wards to decide on that too!”* On this caustic reply the design was dropped. Unpopular as Fox became by his share in such severities, Lord Bute was more unpopular still. Fox was considered as at least a statesman, but Lord Bute as only a Favourite, and amongst us the very name of Favourite has ever been a by-word of reproach. We were determined not to resemble certain contemporary nations that quietly allowed themselves to be ruled by any minion to whom the Sultan might trust his signet-ring, or the Czarina toss her handkerchief. So strong was this feeling in England that it rendered the nation unjust to several good and estimable qualities which, mingled with his faults, Lord Bute in truth possessed. He durst not, or fancied that he durst not, any longer appear in the public streets without being attended at a small distance by a hired gang of bruisers to protect him. “Thus,” adds Lord Chesterfield, “he who had been deemed a pre“sumptuous, now appeared to be a very timorous, Minister, “— characters by no means inconsistent.”* In many country districts, and, above all, in the Cyder counties, his Lordship was burned in effigy under the emblem of a jackboot, — a poor pun upon his name and title as John, Earl of Bute. To the jack-boot in these burnings it was not unusual to add a petticoat, — a further compliment to the * Memoirs of George III., vol. i. p. 240. The Duke of Grafton adds in his MS. Memoirs: “When we came into office in 1765 we stipulated in “the very first instance that every person who was dismissed at this junc
“ture should be restored to his place.” ** Corresp., vol. ii. p. 477, ed. 1845,
Princess Dowager of Wales. Such bonfires of the jack-boot were renewed during several years, both in England and America, as tokens of hostility to the Court, and whilst the secret influence of Lord Bute was still supposed, however untruly, to prevail. By some very few and very keen observers Lord Bute was deemed not unlikely to quail before the storm. It is remarkable that the forty-fourth number of the North Briton, published on the 2d of April, contains these words: “The “Minister himself seems conscious of his decline; his fears “appear in spite of his pride.” But the great mass of politicians of all parties, seeing how large in this Session his majorities had been, and how near at hand was now the prorogation, and knowing also his unabated favour with the King, considered as absolutely certain, and as admitting of no doubt, the prolongation of his power. Thus, with rare exceptions, the public amazement knew no bounds when on the 7th of April it was suddenly announced that Lord Bute's health had become unequal to the fatigues of business, and that on the following day he would resign all his employments — which his Lordship did accordingly. This sudden step, it is said, took the King by surprise nearly as much as the people. After the first pause for wonder, men began to inquire Lord Bute's motive, and according to their own prejudices or partialities assigned the most various, -— from a philosophic love of retirement down to a craven fear. According to some friends he had always declared that as soon as he had signed the Peace, and carried through the Budget, he should consider his objects as attained and his official life as ended. Others thought that his nerves had been shaken by the libels and clamours against him. Others again observed that the emoluments of office were no longer of importance to Lord Bute, since he had secured for his son the reversion of a rich sinecure, and on the death of his father-in-law, Mr. Wortley Montagu, had inherited a large estate. Lord Bute himself in public pleaded ill-health, – a plea which imposed on no