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knowledge were concerned, but by no means as unexceptionable on the score of temper and discretion. The decease of Mr. Yorke took place on the 20th o January; the election of Sir Fletcher on the 22d. On the latter day also Lord Rockingham, according to his notice, moved the Peers to consider the causes of the public discontents. “He was driven on,” says a contemporary, “by “his friends who were ashamed of their attachment to a “mute, but he delivered his proposal with all the ungracious “agitation of terrified spirits, and hobbling through the “grievances of the nation.”* He was ably answered by the Duke of Grafton, and far more ably supported by Lord Chatham. Notes of these speeches, not published till long afterwards, were taken at the time by Philip Francis. To one memorable expression of the Great Earl in this debate Francis thus alluded many years later in a pamphlet under his own name: “Let the war take its course, or, as I heard “Lord Chatham declare in the House of Lords with a “monarch's voice: ‘Let discord prevail for ever!’” — As if these words had not been strong enough, Lord Chatham went on to say: “I know to what point this doctrine and this “language will appear directed. But rather than the nation “should surrender their birthright to a despotic Minister, “I hope, my Lords, old as I am, I shall see the question “brought to issue and fairly tried between the people and “the government.” In this speech also Lord Chatham took occasion to explain his plan for reform in our representative system. He desired that each county should return one member more, which he called, “to infuse a portion of “new health into the Constitution.” But against any idea of disfranchisement he strongly protested. “In my judg“ment, my Lords, these small boroughs, corrupt as they “are, must be considered as the natural infirmity of the
* Lord Orford's Memoirs of George III., vol. iv. p. 57. The Claude Lorraine glass, as applied to Lord Rockingham's speeches, is held up in Lord Albemarle's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 141. &c. (1853.)
1770. LoRD NORTH, PRIME MINISTER. 263
“Constitution. The limb is mortified, but the amputation “might be death.” The Duke of Grafton as Prime Minister was now beset with difficulties. He found himself unable to provide a Chancellor, having since Mr. Yorke's decease applied, but in vain, both to the Attorney General, Mr. De Grey, and to Sir Eardley Wilmot, the Chief Justice. The Government moreover had sustained other losses besides Lord Camden's and Lord Granby's. James Grenville had flung up his sinecure and rejoined his brothers. Dunning had declared that he would only continue in office until a new Solicitor General was found. Several great noblemen in the Royal Household had withdrawn their support and relinquished their places. Under such dispiriting circumstances the vehement attacks of Lord Chatham appear to have fixed the Duke in his determination to resign; and on the very day of Lord Rockingham's motion he announced that determination to the King. Thus no sooner had Lord Chatham emerged from his retirement and raised his voice against the Ministry than the Ministry crumbled to pieces. It was now imagined that George the Third must needs send for the chiefs of Opposition and submit to whatever terms they might require. Only one expedient remained by which this degrading submission — for so His Majesty deemed it — could be averted. By his commands Lord Weymouth and Lord Gower waited upon Lord North with an earnest entreaty that, in addition to his post as Choncellor of the Exchequer, he would assume that of First Lord of the Treasury. Lord North would have greatly preferred to continue in a second place, but yielded at last and reluctantly to the Royal desire; a proof of his devotion to his Sovereign which the King never afterwards forgot.” General Conway, who had lately held a seat in the Cabinet without office, now withdrew; Mr. Thurlow was named Solicitor General; and the Great Seal was put into Commission, but few other changes that could be avoided were made. Such then was the outset of Lord North as Prime Minister, — the seventh within the ten first years of this reign. Of all his six predecessors none had entered office under less favourable circumstances, with less freedom of choice, or with less prospect of permanence. Yet so strange are the chances and changes of public life that, as will be seen, this administration endured longer than all its six predecessors combined. In some part or degree, however, this permanence of power may be fairly ascribed to the amiable and conciliatory qualities of him who held it. Frederick Lord North, eldest son of the Earl of Guilford, was born in 1733. He went through the usual course of an English education at Eton and at Oxford, and afterwards proceeded to the Continent, where he remained three years. He had become, and what is far more rare he continued through life, an excellent classic scholar; and of French, German, and Italian, the first especially, he made himself master in his travels. On coming of age he was returned to Parliament for the family borough of Banbury; and in 1759 he was named a Lord of the Treasury through the influence of his kinsman the Duke of Newcastle. He retired from office at the formation of the Rockingham Ministry, but in 1766, as we have seen, he was named by Lord Chatham joint Paymaster of the Forces, and in the year following succeeded Charles Townshend as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Through all these promotions it may be said with truth that he did not seek honours; it was rather that honours sought him. He was by no means of an eager and aspiring temper, nor ever feeling tempted to deviate from principle in quest of popularity. “I do not dislike popularity,” he said in 1769, “but it so “happens that for the last seven years I have never given my “vote for any one of the popular measures. In 1763 I sup“ported the cyder tax; and I afterwards opposed the repeal “of that tax; a vote of which I never repented. In 1765 I was
* See in the Appendix the King's letters to Lord North; the entreaty (Jan. 23. 1770), and the permanent sense of obligation (Sept. 1777).
1770. LORD NORTH. 265
“for the American Stamp Act; and when in the following “year a Bill was brought in for the repeal of that Act I di“rectly opposed it, for I saw the danger of the repeal. And “when again in 1767 it was thought necessary to relieve the “people by reducing the land tax to the amount of half a “million I was against that measure also. Then appeared on “the public stage that strange phenomenon of popularity, “Mr. Wilkes. I was the first to move his expulsion in 1764. “Every subsequent proceeding against that man I have sup“ported; and I will again vote for his expulsion if he again “attempts to take his seat in this House. In all my memory “therefore I do not recollect a single popular measure I ever “voted for; no, not even the Nullum Tempus Bill, nor the “declaration of law in the case of General Warrants. I state “this to prove that I am not an ambitious man. Men may be “popular without being ambitious, but there is rarely an am“bitious man who does not try to be popular.”* Of outward advantages Lord North was altogether destitute. His figure was overgrown and ungraceful, and his countenance gave little promise of ability. He was extremely near-sighted; a great obstacle in the way of Parliamentary eminence, which has never perhaps been wholly overcome, except by himself and in our own time by Lord Derby. A few days only before he became Prime Minister one of his keenest opponents, Mr. Burke, thus described him in the House of Commons:– “The Noble Lord who spoke last, “after extending his right leg a full yard before his left, “rolling his flaming eyes, and moving his ponderous frame, “has at length opened his mouth!”* But Mr. Burke might have added, though he did not, that no sooner was that mouth opened than it made ample amends for every defect of form or gesture. Out there came, fresh at each emergency, a flow of good sense and sterling information, enlivened by never failing pleasantry and wit. During his long and for the most part disastrous administration it was frequently his fate to maintain almost alone a contest with some of the ablest orators whom the world had ever seen. Yet by his natural and acquired gifts of mind, conjoined with high character and with steady courage, he was enabled to stand firm during so many years against all the efforts of Fox and Burke, of Dunning, Savile, and Barré, and at last the younger Pitt. Unequal as he might be to some at least of these in powers of eloquence, he far surpassed them, and indeed all men of his time, in his admirable mildness and placidity of temper. So cheerful was ever his mien, and so unruffled his composure, that it seemed scarcely an effort to him to wage the warfare of debate even against such adversaries. Indeed his great difficulty during the violent volleys of attacks that were often poured upon him as he sat upon the Treasury Bench was to keep himself awake! Many a keen opponent charging him to his face with the heaviest crimes and misdemeanours must have felt not a little disconcerted at seeing opposite the object of all his vehemence dropping by degrees into a gentle doze, and only roused by his neighbours' elbows into starts of watchfulness.
* Speech in the House of Commons, March 2. 1769. Cavendish Debates, vol. i. p. 299. ” Speech of January 9. 1770. Parl. Hist., vol. xvi. p. 720. This is one of the debates omitted by Cavendish.
Whenever Lord North rose to reply the same goodhumoured unconcern was still more apparent. Thus, for instance, on one occasion interposing in a quarrel he observed that there was often far too much readiness to take offence. “That is not my own case,” he added. “This very “evening one Member who spoke of me called me “that “‘thing called a Minister.' Well to be sure,” — continued Lord North, here patting his ample sides, – “I am an un“wieldy thing; the Honourable Member therefore when he “called me “a thing” said what was true, and I could not be “angry with him. But when he added, “that thing called a “‘Minister,’ he called me that thing which of all things he “himself wished most to be, and therefore I took it as a com“pliment!”*
* Reminiscences of Mr. Charles Butler, vol. i. p. 159. — On another occasion (Jan. 27. 1778) when Fox had accused him of indolence and love.