« AnteriorContinuar »
a confessor, Theodore as commonplace a young The earlier letters contain the inost lively gentleman, Isabella and Matilda as common- and interesting account which we possess of place a pair of young ladies, as are to be found in that “great Walpolean battle,” to use the words any of the thousand Italian castles in which con- of Junius, which terminated in the retirement dottieri have revelled, or in which imprisoned of Sir Robert. Horace Walpole entered the duchesses have pined. We cannot say that we House of Commons just in time to witness the much admire the big man whose sword is dug last desperate struggle which his father, surup in one quarter of the globe, whose helmet rounded by enemies and traitors, maintained, drops from the clouds in another, and who, with a spirit as brave as that of the column at after clattering and rustling for some days, Fontenoy, first for victory, and then for hoends by kicking the house down. But the nourable retreat. Horace was, of course, on story, whatever its value may be, never flags the side of his family. Lord Dover seems to for a single moment. There are no digres- have been enthusiastic on the same side, and sions, or unseasonable descriptions, or long goes so far as to call Sir Robert “ the glory of speeches. Every sentence carries the action the Whigs." forward. The excitement is constantly re- Sir Robert deserved this high eulogium, we newed. Absurd as is the machinery, and in- I think, as little as he deserved the abusive epi. sipid as are the human actors, no reader pro- thets which have often been coupled with his bably ever thought the book dull.
A fair character of him still remains Walpole's “ Letters” are generally consider to be drawn; and, whenever it shall be drawn ed as his best performances, and we think it will be equally unlike the portrait by Coxe with reason. His faults are far less offensive and the portrait by Smollett. to us in his correspondence than in his books. He had, undoubtedly, great talents and great His wild, absurd, and ever-changing opinions virtues. He was not, indeed, like the leaders about men and things are easily pardoned in of the party which opposed his government, a familiar letters. His bitter, scoffing, depre- brilliant orator. He was not a profound schociating disposition, does not show itself in so lar, like Carteret, or a wit and a fine gentle. unmitigated a manner as in his “Memoirs." man, like Chesterfield. In all these respects, A writer of letters must be civil and friendly his deficiencies were remarkable. His literato his correspondent at least, if to no other per- ture consisted of a scrap or two of Horace,
and an anecdote or two from the end of the He loved letter-writing, and had evidently Dictionary. His knowledge of history was so studied it as an art. It was, in truth, the very limited, that, in the great debate on the Excise kind of writing for such a man; for a man Bill, he was forced to ask Attorney-General very ambitious to rank among wits, yet ner-Yorke who Empson and Dudley were. His vously afraid that, while obtaining the reputa- manners were a little too coarse and boistetion of a wit, he might lose caste as a gentle-rous even for the age of Westerns and Topman. There was nothing vulgar in writing a halls. When he ceased to talk of politics, he letter. Not even Ensign Northerton, not even could talk of nothing but women; and he dithe captain described in Hamilton's Baron-lated on his favourite theme with a freedom and Walpole, though the author of many which shocked even that plain-spoken generaquartos, had some feelings in common with tion, and which was quite unsuited to his age those gallant officers-would have denied that and station. The noisy revelry of his summer a gentleman might sometimes correspond with festivities at Houghton gave much scandal to a friend. Whether Walpole bestowed much grave people, and annually drove his kinsman labour on the composition of his letters, it is and colleague, Lord Townshend, from the impossible to judge from internal evidence. neighbouring mansion of Rainham. There are passages which seem perfectly un- But, however ignorant he might be of gestudied. But the appearance of ease may be neral history and of general literature, he was the effect of labour. There are passages'which better acquainted than any man of his day have a very artificial air. But they may have with what it concerned him most to know, been produced without effort by a mind of mankind, the English nation, the court, the which the natural ingenuity had been im- House of Commons, and his own office. Of proved into morbid quickness by constant ex. foreign affairs he knew little; but his judgment ercise. We are never sure that we see him was so good, that his little knowledge went as he was. We are never sure that what very far. He was an excellent parliamentary appears to be nature is not an effect of art. debater, an excellent parliamentary tactician, We are never sure that what appears to be art an excellent man of business. No man ever is not merely habit which has become second brought more industry or more method to the nature.
transacting of affairs. No minister in his time In wit and animation the present collection did so much; yet no minister had so much is not superior to those which have preceded leisure. it. But it has one great advantage over them He was a good-natured man, who had for all. It forms a connected whole-a regular thirty years seen nothing but the worst parts journal of what appeared to Walpole the most of human nature in other men. He was famiimportant transactions of the last twenty years liar with the malice of kind people, and the of George the Second's reign. It contains much perfidy of honourable people. Proud men had new information concerning the history of that licked the dust before him Patriots had beg. time, the portion of English history of which ged him to come up to the price of their pulled common readers know the least.
and advertised integrity. He said, after his Vol. II.-28
fall, that it was a dangerous thing to be a minis- | people. Its constitution was oligarchical. Its ter; that there were few minds which would deliberations were secret. Its power in the not be injured by the constant spectacle of state was immense. The government had meanness and depravity. To his honour, it every conceivable motive to offer bribes. Many must be confessed, that few minds have come of the members, if they were not men of strict out of such a trial so little damaged in the honour and probity, had no conceivable motive most important parts. He retired, after more to refuse what the government offered. In the than twenty years of power, with a temper not reign of Charles the Second, accordingly, the soured, with a heart not hardened, with simple practice of buying votes in the House of Com. tastes, with frank manners, and with a capa- mons was commenced by the daring Clifford, city for friendship. No stain of treachery, of and carried to a great extent by the crafty and ingratitude, or of cruelty rests on his memory. shameless Danby. The Revolution, great and Factious hatred, while flinging on his name manifold as were the blessings of which it was every other foul aspersion, was compelled to directly or remotely the cause, at first aggraown that he was not a man of blood. This vated this evil. The importance of the House would scarcely seem a high eulogium on a of Commons was now greater than ever. The statesman of our times. It was then a rare prerogatives of the crown were more strictly and honourable distinction. The contest of limited than ever, and those associations in parties in England had long been carried on which, more than in its legal prerogatives, its with a ferocity unworthy of a civilized people. power had consisted, were completely broken. Sir Robert Walpole was the minister who gave No prince was ever in so helpless, so distressing to our government that character of lenity a situation as William the Third. The party which it has since generally preserved. It which defended his title was,on general grounds, was perfectly known to him that many of his disposed to curtail his prerogative. The party opponents had dealings with the Pretender. which was, on general grounds, friendly to the The lives of some were at his mercy. He prerogative, was adverse to his title. There was wanted neither Whig nor Tory precedents for no quarter in which both his office and his person using his advantage unsparingly. But, with a could find favour. But while the influence of clemency to which posterity has never done the House of Commons in the government was justice, he suffered himself to be thwarted, vi- becoming paramount, the influence of the peolified, and at last overthrown, by a party which ple over the House of Commons was declining. included many men whose necks were in his it mattered little in the time of Charles the power.
First, whether that House were or were not That he practised corruption on a large chosen by the people, it was certain to act for scale is, we think, indisputable. But whether the people; because it would have been at he deserved all the invectives which have been the mercy of the court, but for the support of uttered against him on that account, may be the people. Now that the court was at the questioned. No man ought to be severely cen- mercy of the House of Commons, that large sured for not being beyond his age in virtue. body of members who were not returned by To buy the votes of constituents is as im- popular election had nobody to please but moral as to buy the votes of representatives. themselves. Even those who were returned The candidate who gives five guineas to the by popular election did not live, as now, under freeman is as culpable as the man who gives a constant sense of responsibility. The conthree hundred guineas to the member. Yet stituents were not, as now, daily apprized of we know that, in our own time, no man is the votes and speeches of their representatives. thought wicked or dishonourable, no man is The privileges which had, in old times, been cut, no man is black-balled, because, under indispensably necessary to the security and the old system of election, he was returned, in efficiency of Parliaments, were now superfluthe only way in which he could be returned, for ous. But they were still carefully maintained; East Retford, for Liverpool, or for Stafford. by honest legislators, from superstitious veneWalpole governed by corruption, because, in ration; by dishonest legislators, for their own his time, it was impossible to govern other-selfish ends. They had been a useful defence wise. Corruption was unnecessary to the to the Commons during a long and doubtful Tudors : for their Parliaments were feeble. conflict with powerful sovereigns. They were The publicity which has of late years been now no longer necessary for that purpose; and given to parliamentary proceedings has raised they became a defence to the members against the standard of morality among public men. their constituents. That secresy which had The power of public opinion is so great, that, been absolutely necessary in times when the ever. before the reform of the representation, Privy Council was in the habit of sending the a faint suspicion that a minister had given leaders of opposition to the Tower, was prepecuniary gratifications to members of Par- served in times when a vote of the House of liament in return for their votes, would have Commons was sufficient to hurl the most been enough to ruin him. But, during the powerful minister from his post. century which followed the restoration, the The government could not go on unless the House of Commons was in that situation Parliament could be kept in order. And how in which assemblies must be managed by was the Parliament to be kept in order ? Three corruption, or cannot be managed at all. It hundred years ago it would have been enough was not held in awe, as in the sixteenth centu- for a statesman to have the support of the ry, by the throne. It was not held in awe, as crown. It would now, we hope and believe, in the nineteenth century, by the opinion of the I be enough for him to enjoy the confidence
and approbation of the great body of the mid- turbulent, he would probably have relieved lle class. A hundred years ago it would not them; but while he apprehended no danger have been enough to have both crown and from them, he would not run the slightest risk people on his side. The Parliament had shak- for their sake. He acted in the same manner en off the control of the royal prerogative. It with respect to other questions. He knew the had not yet fallen under the control of public state of ihe Scotch Highlands. He was conopinion. A large proportion of the members stantly predicting another insurrection in that had absolutely no motive to support any admi- part of the empire. Yet during his long tenure nistration except their own interest, and in the of power, he never attempted to perform what lowest sense of the word. Under these cir- was then the most obvious and pressing duiy cumstances, the country could be governed of a British statesman-to break the power of only by corruption. Bolingbroke, who was the the chiefs, and to establish the authority of law ablest and the most vehement of those who through the farthest corners of the island. No. raised the cry of corruption, had no better re- body knew better than he that, if this were not medy to propose than that the royal prero- done, great mischiefs would follow. But the gative should be strengthened. The remedy Highlands were tolerably quiet at this time. would no doubt have been efficient. The only He was content to meet daily emergencies by question is, whether it would not have been daily expedients; and he left the rest to his worse than the disease. The fault was in the successors. They had to conquer the High constitution of the legislature; and to blame lands in the midsi of a war with France and those ministers who managed the legislature in Spain, because he had not regulated the Highthe only way in which it could be managed, islands in a time of profound peace. gross injustice. They submitted to extortion Sometimes, in spite of all his caution, he because they could not help themselves. We found that measures, which he had hoped to might as well accuse the poor Lowland farmers carry through quietly, had caused great agitawho paid “ black mail” to Rob Roy, of cor- tion. When this was the case, he generally rupting the virtue of the Highlanders, as Sir | modified or withdrew them. It wa: thus that Robert Walpole of corrupting the virtue of he cancelled Wood's patent in compliance with Parliament. His crime was merely this; the absurd outcry of the Irish. It was thus that he employed his money more dexterously, that he frittered away the Porteous Bill to noand got more support in return for it, than any thing, for fear of exasperating the Scotch. It of those who preceded or followed him. was thus that he abandoned the Excise Bili, as
He was himself incorruptible by money. soon as he found that it was offensive to all the His dominant passion was the love of power; great lowns of England. The language which and the heaviest charge which can be brought he held about that measure in a subsequent against him is, that to this passion he never session is eminently characteristic. Pulteney scrupled to sacrifice the interests of his had insinuated that the scheme would be again country,
brought forward. “As to the wicked scheme,” One of the maxims which, as his son tells said Walpole, “ as the gentleman is pleased to us, he was most in the habit of repeating was, call it, which he would persuade gentlemen is quieta non movere. It was indeed the maxim by not yet laid aside, I, for my part, assure this which he generally regulated his public conduct. House, I am not so mad as ever again to enIt is the maxim of a man more solicitous to hold gage in any thing that looks like an excise ; power long than to use it well. It is remark- though, in my private opinion, I still think it able that, though he was at the head of affairs was a scheme that would have tended very during more than twenty years, not one great much to the interest of the nation.” measure, not one important change for the bet- The conduct of Walpole with regard to the er or for the worse in any part of our institu- Spanish War is the great blemish of his pubtions, marks the period of his supremacy. Nor lic life. Archdeacon Coxe imagined that he was this because he did not clearly see that had discovered one grand principle of action many changes were very desirable. He had to which the whole public conduct of his hero been brought up in the school of toleration at ought to be referred. “Did the administration the feet of Somers and of Burnet. He disliked of Walpole,” says the biographer, “present the shameful laws against Dissenters. But he any uniform principle which may be traced in never could be induced to bring forward a every part, and which gave combination and proposition for repealing them. The sufferers consistency to the whole ? Yes, and that prinrepresented to him the injustice with which ciple was, The Love of Peace.” It would be they were treated, boasted of their firm attach- difficult, we think, to bestow a higher eulogium ment to the house of Brunswick and to the on any statesman. But the eulogium is far too Whig party, and reminded him of his own re- high for the merits of Walpole. The great peated declarations of good-will to their cause. ruling principle of his public conduct was inHe listened, assented, promised, and did no- deed a love of peace, but not in the sense in thing. At length the question was brought which Archdeacon Coxe uses the phrase. The forward by others; and the minister, after a peace which Walpole sought was not the hesitating and evasive speech, voted against it. peace of the country, but the peace of his own The truth was, that he remembered to the latest administration. During the greater part of his day of his life that terrible explosion of high- public life, indeed, the two objects were insechurch feeling which the foolish prosecution parably connected. At length he was reduced of a foolish parson had occasioned in the days to the necessity of choosing between them-of of Queen Anne. If the Dissenters had been plunging the state into hostilities for which
there was no just ground, and by which no- father, who had charged with Rupert at Marsthing was to be got; or of facing a violentton, who had held out the old manor-house opposition in the country, in Parliament, and against Fairfax, and who, after the king's reeven in the royal closet. No person was more turn, had been set down for a Knight of the thoroughly convinced than he of the absurdity Royal Oak, flew to that section of the opposi. of the cry against Spain. But his darling tion which, under pretence of assailing the power was at stake, and his choice was soon existing administration, was in truth assailing made. He preferred an unjust war to a stormy the reigning dynasty. The young republican, session. It is impossible to say of a minister fresh from his Livy and his Lucan, and Bowirg who acted thus, that the love of peace was the with admiration of Hampden, of Russell, and one grand principle to which all his conduct is of Sydney, hastened with equal eagerness to to be referred. The governing principle of his those benches from which eloquent voices conduct was neither love of peace nor love of thundered nightly against the tyranny and perwar, but love of power.
fidy of courts. So many young politicians The praise to which he is fairly entitled is were caught by these declarations, that Sir Rothis, that he understood the true interest of his bert, in one of his best speeches, observed, that country better than any of his contemporaries, the opposition against him consisted of three and that he pursued that interest whenever it bodies--the Tories, the discontented Whigs, was not incompatible with the interest of his who were known by the name of the patriots, own intense and grasping ambition. It was only and the boys. In fact, every young man in matters of public moment that he shrunk of warm temper and lively imagination, whatfrom agitation, and had recourse to compromise. ever his political bias might be, was drawn In his contest for personal influence there was into the party adverse to the government; and no timidity, nor flinching. He would have all some of the most distinguished among themor none. Every member of the government Pitt, for example, among public men, and who would not submit to his ascendency was Johnson, among men of letters--afterwards turned out or forced to resign. Liberal of openly acknowledged their mistake. every thing else, he was avaricious of nothing The aspect of the opposition, even while it
Cautious everywhere else, when was still a minority in the House of Commons, power was at stake, he had all the boldness of was very imposing. Among those who, in Wolsey or Chatham. He might easily have Parliament or out of Parliament, assailed the secured his authority if he could have been in administration of Walpole, were Bolingbroke, duced to divide it with others. But he would Carteret, Chesterfield, Argyle, Pulteney, Wyndnot part with one fragment of it to purchase de- ham, Doddington, Pitt, Lyttleton, Barnard, Pope, fenders for all the rest. The effect of this policy Swift, Gay, Arbuthnot, Fielding, Johnson, Thomwas, that he had able enemies and feeble allies. son, Akenside, Glover. His most distinguished coadjutors left him one The circumstance that the opposition was by one, and joined the ranks of the opposition. divided into two parties, diametrically opposed He faced the increasing array of his enemies to each other in political opinions, was long with unbroken spirit, and thought it far better the safety of Walpole. It was at last his ruin. that they should inveigh against his power the leaders of the minority knew that it would than that they should share it.
be difficult for them to bring forward any imThe opposition was in every sense formida- portant measure, without producing an imme. ble. At its head were two royal personages, diate schism in their party. It was with very the exiled head of the house of Stuart, the great difficulty that the Whigs in opposition disgraced heir of the house of Brunswick. had been induced to give a sullen and silent One set of members received directions from vote for the repeal of the Septennial Act. The Avignon. Another set held their consultations Tories, on the other hand, could not be induced and banquets at Norfolk House. The majority to support Pulteney's motion for an addition to of the landed gentry, the majority of the paro- the income of Prince Frederic. The two parchial clergy, one of the universities, and a ties had cordially joined in calling out for a sliong party in the city of London, and in the war with Spain: but they had now their war. other great towns, were decidedly averse to Hatred of Walpole was almost the only feeling thu government. Of the men of letters, some which was common to them. On this one were exasperated by the neglect with which the point, therefore, they concentrated their whole minister treated them-a neglect which was the strength. With gross ignorance, or gross dismore remarkable, because his predecessors, hunesty, they represented the minister as the both Whig and Tory, had paid court, with main grievance of the state. His dismissal, emulous munificence, to the wits and the his punishment, would prove the certain cure poets ; others were honestly inflamed by party for all the evils which the nation suffered. zeal; almost all lent their aid to the opposition. What was to be done after his fall, how misIn truth, all that was alluring to ardent and government was to be prevented in future, imaginative minds was on that side :-old asso- were questions to which there were as many ciations, new visions of political improvement, answers as there were noisy and ill-informed high-flown theories of loyalty, high-flown theo- members of the opposition. The only cry in ries of liberty, the enthusiasm of the Cavalier, which all could join was, “ Down with Walshe enthusiasm of the Roundhead. The Tory pole!" So much did they narrow the disputed gentlemar., fed in the common-rooms of Oxford grounds, so purely personal did they make the with the ducirines of Filmer and Sacheverell, question, that they threw out frienüly hints to and proud of the exploits of his great-grand- I the other members of the adminisiration, and
declared that they refused quarter to the prime Walpole was to be the beginning of a political minister alone. His tools might keep their millennium; and every enthusiast had figured heads, their fortunes, even their places, if only to himself that millennium according to the the great father of corruption were given up to fashion of his own wishes. The republican the just vengeance of the nation.
expected that the power of the crown would If the fate of Walpole's colleagues had been be reduced to a mere shadow; the high Tory inseparably bound up with his, he probably that the Stuarts would be restored; the mode. would, even after the unfavourable elections rate Tory that the golden days which the of 1741, have been able to weather the storm. church and the landed interest had enjoyed But as soon as it was understood that the at- during the last years of Queen Anne, would tack was directed against him alone, and that, immediately return. It would have been imif he were sacrificed, his associates might ex- possible to satisfy everybody. The conquerors pect advantageous and honourable terms, the satisfied nobody. ministerial ranks began to waver, and the mur- We have no reverence for the memory of mur of sauve qui peut was heard. That Wal- those who were then called the patriots. We pole had foul play is almost certain : but to are for the principles of good government what extent it is difficult to say. Lord Islay against Walpole; and for Walpole against the was suspected; the Duke of Newcastle some opposition. It was most desirable that a purer thing more than suspected. It would have system should be introduced; but if the old been strange, indeed, if his grace had been system was to be retained, no man was so fit idle when treason was hatching.
as Walpole to be at the head of affairs. There “Che Gan fu traditor prima che nato.
." "His were frightful abuses in the government, name," said Sir Robert, “is perfidy."
abuses more than sufficient to justify a strong Never was a battle more manfully fought opposition; but the party opposed to Walpole, cut than the last struggle of the old statesman. while they stimulated the popular fury to the His clear judgment, his long experience, and highest point, were at no pains to direct it his fearless spirit
, enabled him to maintain a aright. Indeed, they studiously misdirected it. defensive war through half a session. To the They misrepresented the evil. They pre. last his heart never failed him; and, when at scribed inefficient and pernicious remedies. length he yielded, he yielded, not to the threats They held up a single man as the sole cause of his enemies, but to the entreaties of his dis- of all the vices of a bad system, which had pirited and refractory followers. When he been in full operation before his entrance into could no longer retain his power, he com- public life, and which continued to be in full pounded for honour and security, and retired to operation when some of these very bawlers his garden and his paintings, leaving to those had succeeded to his power. They thwarted who had overthrown him-shame, discord, and his best measures. They drove him into an ruin.
unjustifiable war against his will. Constantly Every thing was in confusion. It has been talking in magnificent language about tyranny, said that the confusion was produced by the corruption, wicked ministers, servile courtiers, dexterous policy of Walpole; and undoubtedly, the liberties of Englishmen, the Great Charter, he did his best to sow dissensions amongst his the rights for which our fathers bled-Timo triumphant enemies. But there was little for leon, Brutus, Hampden, Sydney-- they had him to do. Victory had completely dissolved absolutely nothing to propose which wouid the hollow truce which the two sections of the have been an improvement on our institutions. opposition had but imperfectly observed, even Instead of directing the public mind to definite while the event of the contest was still doubt- reforms, which might have completed the ful. A thousand questions were opened in a work of the Revolution, which might have moment. A thousand conflicting claims were brought the legislature into harmony with the preferred. It was impossible to follow any nation, and which might have prevented the line of policy, which would not have been of crown from doing by influence what it could fensive to a large portion of the successful no longer do by prerogative, they exciied a party. It was impossible to find places for a vague craving for change, by which they protenth part of those who thought that they had fited for a single moment, and of which, as a right to be considered. While the parlia- they well deserved, they were soon the victims. mentary leaders were preaching patience and Among the reforms which the state then confidence, while their followers were clamor- required, there were two of paramount im. ing for reward, a still louder voice was heard portance, two which would alone have reme. from without-the terrible cry of à people died almost every abuse, and without which angry, they hardly knew with whom, and im- all other remedies would have been unavail. patient, they hardly knew for what. The day ing-the publicity of parliamentary proceed. of retribution had arrived. The opposition ings, and the abolition of the rotten boroughs. reaped what they had sown: inflamed with Neither of these was thought of. It seems to hatred and cupidity, despairing of success by us clear, that if these were not adopted, ali any ordinary mode of political warfare, and other measures would have been illusory. blind to consequences which, though remote, Some of the patriots suggested changes which were certain, they had conjured up a devil would, beyond all doubt, have increased thu which they could not lay. They had made the existing evils a hundredfold. These men public mind drunk with calumny and declama- wished to transfer the disposal of employ tion. They had raised expectations which it ments, and the command of the army, from was impossible to satisfy. The downfall of the crown to the Parliament; and this on thr