« AnteriorContinuar »
a confessor, Theodore as commonplace a young gentleman, Isabella and Matilda as commonplace a pair of young ladies, as are to be found in any of the thousand Italian castles in which condottieri have revelled, or in which imprisoned duchesses have pined. We cannot say that we much admire the big man whose sword is dug up in one quarter of the globe, whose helmet drops from the clouds in another, and who, after clattering and rustling for some days, ends by kicking the house down. But the story, whatever its value may be, never flags for a single moment. There are no digressions, or unseasonable descriptions, or long speeches. Every sentence carries the action forward. The excitement is constantly renewed. Absurd as is the machinery, and insipid as are the human actors, no reader probably ever thought the book dull.
The earlier letters contain the most lively and interesting account which we possess of that "great Walpolean battle," to use the words of Junius, which terminated in the retirement of Sir Robert. Horace Walpole entered the House of Commons just in time to witness the last desperate struggle which his father, surrounded by enemies and traitors, maintained, with a spirit as brave as that of the column at Fontenoy, first for victory, and then for honourable retreat. Horace was, of course, on the side of his family. Lord Dover seems to have been enthusiastic on the same side, and goes so far as to call Sir Robert "the glory of the Whigs."
Sir Robert deserved this high eulogium, we think, as little as he deserved the abusive epithets which have often been coupled with his name. A fair character of him still remains to be drawn; and, whenever it shall be drawn it will be equally unlike the portrait by Coxe and the portrait by Smollett.
Walpole's "Letters" are generally considered as his best performances, and we think with reason. His faults are far less offensive 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 solar, like Carteret, or a wit and a fine gentleunmitigated a manner as in his "Memoirs." A writer of letters must be civil and friendly to his correspondent at least, if to no other per
man, like Chesterfield. In all these respects, his deficiencies were remarkable. His literature 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 hut 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 quartos, had some feelings in common with those gallant officers-would have denied that a gentleman might sometimes correspond with a friend. Whether Walpole bestowed much labour on the composition of his letters, it is impossible to judge from internal evidence. There are passages which seem perfectly un- But, however ignorant he might be of gestudied. Bu: 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 as he was. We are never sure that what appears to be nature is not an effect of art. We are never sure that what appears to be art is not merely habit which has become second
In wit and animation the present collection is not superior to those which have preceded it. But it has one great advantage over them all. It forms a connected whole-a regular journal of what appeared to Walpole the most important transactions of the last twenty years of George the Second's reign. It contains much new information concerning the history of that time, the portion of English history of which cominon readers know the least.
which shocked even that plain-spoken generation, and which was quite unsuited to his age and station. The noisy revelry of his summer festivities at Houghton gave much scandal to grave people, and annually drove his kinsman and colleague, Lord Townshend, from the neighbouring mansion of Rainham.
was so good, that his little knowledge went very far. He was an excellent parliamentary debater, an excellent parliamentary tactician, an excellent man of business. No man ever brought more industry or more method to the transacting of affairs. No minister in his time did so much; yet no minister had so much leisure.
He was a good-natured man, who had for thirty years seen nothing but the worst parts of human nature in other men. He was familiar with the malice of kind people, and the perfidy of honourable people. Proud men had licked the dust before him Patriots had begged him to come up to the price of their puffed and advertised integrity. He said, arter his
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 Comtastes, 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 aggra own 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 chosen by the people, it was certain to act for the people; because it would have been at the mercy of the court, but for the support of the people. Now that the court was at the mercy of the House of Commons, that large body of members who were not returned by popular election had nobody to please but themselves. Even those who were returned by popular election did not live, as now, under a constant sense of responsibility. The constituents were not, as now, daily apprized of the votes and speeches of their representatives. The privileges which had, in old times, been indispensably necessary to the security and efficiency of Parliaments, were now superfluous. But they were still carefully maintained; by honest legislators, from superstitious veneration; by dishonest legislators, for their own selfish ends. They had been a useful defence to the Commons during a long and doubtful conflict with powerful sovereigns. They were now no longer necessary for that purpose; and they became a defence to the members against their constituents. That secresy which had been absolutely necessary in times when the Privy Council was in the habit of sending the leaders of opposition to the Tower, was preserved in times when a vote of the House of Commons was sufficient to hurl the most powerful minister from his post.
That he practised corruption on a large scale is, we think, indisputable. But whether he deserved all the invectives which have been uttered against him on that account, may be questioned. No man ought to be severely censured for not being beyond his age in virtue. To buy the votes of constituents is as immoral as to buy the votes of representatives. The candidate who gives five guineas to the freeman is as culpable as the man who gives three hundred guineas to the member. Yet we know that, in our own time, no man is thought wicked or dishonourable, no man is cut, no man is black-balled, because, under the old system of election, he was returned, in the only way in which he could be returned, for East Retford, for Liverpool, or for Stafford. Walpole governed by corruption, because, in his time, it was impossible to govern otherwise. Corruption was unnecessary to the Tudors for their Parliaments were feeble. The publicity which has of late years been given to parliamentary proceedings has raised the standard of morality among public men. The power of public opinion is so great, that, ever. before the reform of the representation, a faint suspicion that a minister had given pecuniary gratifications to members of Parliament in return for their votes, would have been enough to ruin him. But, during the century which followed the restoration, the House of Commons was in that situation in which assemblies must be managed by corruption, or cannot be managed at all. It was not held in awe, as in the sixteenth century, by the throne. It was not held in awe, as In the nineteenth century, by the opinion of the
The government could not go on unless the Parliament could be kept in order. And how was the Parliament to be kept in order? Three hundred years ago it would have been enough for a statesman to have the support of ne crown. It would now, we hope and believe, be enough for him to enjoy the confidence
and approbation of the great body of the mid- turbulent, he would probably have relieved dle 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 the Scotch Highlands. He was con opinion. 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 duty 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. Noraised 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 midst 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, is lands in a time of profound peace. gross injustice. They submitted to extortion because they could not help themselves. We might as well accuse the poor Lowland farmers who paid "black mail" to Rob Roy, of corrupting the virtue of the Highlanders, as Sir Robert Walpole of corrupting the virtue of Parliament. His crime was merely this; that he employed his money more dexterously, and got more support in return for it, than any of those who preceded or followed him.
He was himself incorruptible by money. His dominant passion was the love of power; and the heaviest charge which can be brought against him is, that to this passion he never scrupled to sacrifice the interests of his country.
One of the maxims which, as his son tells us, he was most in the habit of repeating was, quieta non movere. It was indeed the maxim by which he generally regulated his public conduct. It is the maxim of a man more solicitous to hold power long than to use it well. It is remarkable that, though he was at the head of affairs during more than twenty years, not one great measure, not one important change for the better or for the worse in any part of our institutions, marks the period of his supremacy. Nor was this because he did not clearly see that many changes were very desirable. He had been brought up in the school of toleration at the feet of Somers and of Burnet. He disliked the shameful laws against Dissenters. But he never could be induced to bring forward a proposition for repealing them. The sufferers represented to him the injustice with which they were treated, boasted of their firm attachment to the house of Brunswick and to the Whig party, and reminded him of his own repeated declarations of good-will to their cause. He listened, assented, promised, and did nothing. At length the question was brought forward by others; and the minister, after a hesitating and evasive speech, voted against it. The truth was, that he remembered to the latest day of his life that terrible explosion of highchurch feeling which the foolish prosecution of a foolish parson had occasioned in the days of Queen Anne. If the Dissenters had been
Sometimes, in spite of all his caution, he found that measures, which he had hoped to carry through quietly, had caused great agita tion. When this was the case, he generally modified or withdrew them. It was thus that he cancelled Wood's patent in compliance with the absurd outcry of the Irish. It was thus that he frittered away the Porteous Bill to nothing, for fear of exasperating the Scotch. It was thus that he abandoned the Excise Biii, as soon as he found that it was offensive to all the great towns of England. The language which he held about that measure in a subsequent session is eminently characteristic. Pulteney had insinuated that the scheme would be again brought forward. "As to the wicked scheme," said Walpole, "as the gentleman is pleased to call it, which he would persuade gentlemen is not yet laid aside, I, for my part, assure this House, I am not so mad as ever again to engage in any thing that looks like an excise; though, in my private opinion, I still think it was a scheme that would have tended very much to the interest of the nation."
The conduct of Walpole with regard to the Spanish War is the great blemish of his public life. Archdeacon Coxe imagined that he had discovered one grand principle of action to which the whole public conduct of his hero ought to be referred. "Did the administration of Walpole," says the biographer, “present any uniform principle which may be traced in every part, and which gave combination and consistency to the whole? Yes, and that prin ciple was, THE LOVE OF PEACE." It would be difficult, we think, to bestow a higher eulogium on any statesman. But the eulogium is far too high for the merits of Walpole. The great ruling principle of his public conduct was indeed a love of peace, but not in the sense in which Archdeacon Coxe uses the phrase. The peace which Walpole sought was not the peace of the country, but the peace of his own administration. During the greater part of his public life, indeed, the two objects were inse parably connected. At length he was reduced to the necessity of choosing between them-of plunging the state into hostilities for which
there was no just ground, and by which no- | father, who had charged with Rupert at Mars thing was to be got; or of facing a violent ton, who had held out the old manor-house opposition in the country, in Parliament, and against Fairfax, and who, after the king's re even 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 ininister fresh from his Livy and his Lucan, and flowing 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 per war, but love of power. fidy of courts. So many young politicians were caught by these declarations, that Sir Ro bert, in one of his best speeches, observed, that the opposition against him consisted of three bodies-the Tories, the discontented Whigs, who were known by the name of the patriots, and the boys. In fact, every young man of warm temper and lively imagination, what. ever his political bias might be, was drawn into the party adverse to the government; and some of the most distinguished among themPitt, for example, among public men, and Johnson, among men of letters-afterwards openly acknowledged their mistake.
The praise to which he is fairly entitled is this, that he understood the true interest of his country better than any of his contemporaries, and that he pursued that interest whenever it was not incompatible with the interest of his own intense and grasping ambition. It was only in matters of public moment that he shrunk from agitation, and had recourse to compromise. In his contest for personal influence there was no timidity, nor flinching. He would have all or none. Every member of the government who would not submit to his ascendency was turned out or forced to resign. Liberal of every thing else, he was avaricious of nothing but power. Cautious everywhere else, when power was at stake, he had all the boldness of Wolsey or Chatham. He might easily have secured his authority if he could have been induced to divide it with others. But he would not part with one fragment of it to purchase defenders for all the rest. The effect of this policy was, that he had able enemies and feeble allies. His most distinguished coadjutors left him one by one, and joined the ranks of the opposition. He faced the increasing array of his enemies with unbroken spirit, and thought it far better that they should inveigh against his power than that they should share it.
The aspect of the opposition, even while it was still a minority in the House of Commons, was very imposing. Among those who, in Parliament or out of Parliament, assailed the administration of Walpole, were Bolingbroke, Carteret, Chesterfield, Argyle, Pulteney, Wyndham, Doddington, Pitt, Lyttleton, Barnard, Pope, Swift,Gay, Arbuthnot, Fielding, Johnson, Thom son, Akenside, Glover.
The circumstance that the opposition was divided into two parties, diametrically opposed to each other in political opinions, was long the safety of Walpole. It was at last his ruin. The leaders of the minority knew that it would be difficult for them to bring forward any imThe opposition was in every sense formida-portant measure, without producing an imme blc. 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 disgraced heir of the house of Brunswick. One set of members received directions from Avignon. Another set held their consultations and banquets at Norfolk House. The majority of the landed gentry, the majority of the parochial clergy, one of the universities, and a strong party in the city of London, and in the other great towns, were decidedly averse to the government. Of the men of letters, some were exasperated by the neglect with which the minister treated them-a neglect which was the more remarkable, because his predecessors, both Whig and Tory, had paid court, with emulous munificence, to the wits and the poets; others were honestly inflamed by party zeal; almost all lent their aid to the opposition. In truth, all that was alluring to ardent and imaginative minds was on that side:-old associations, new visions of political improvement, high-flown theories of loyalty, high-flown theories of liberty, the enthusiasm of the Cavalier, the enthusiasm of the Roundhead. The Tory gentlemar., fed in the common-rooms of Oxford with the doctrines of Filmer and Sacheverell, and proud of the exploits of his great-grand
great difficulty that the Whigs in opposition had been induced to give a sullen and silent vote for the repeal of the Septennial Act. The Tories, on the other hand, could not be induced to support Pulteney's motion for an addition to the income of Prince Frederic. The two par ties had cordially joined in calling out for a war with Spain: but they had now their war. Hatred of Walpole was almost the only feeling which was common to them. On this one point, therefore, they concentrated their whole strength. With gross ignorance, or gross dishonesty, they represented the minister as the main grievance of the state. His dismissal, his punishment, would prove the certain cure for all the evils which the nation suffered. What was to be done after his fall, how misgovernment was to be prevented in future, were questions to which there were as many answers as there were noisy and ill-informed members of the opposition. The only cry in which all could join was, "Down with Walpole!" So much did they narrow the disputed grounds, so purely personal did they make the question, that they threw out friendly hints to the other members of the administration, and
declared hat 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 be reduced to a mere shadow; the high Tory that the Stuarts would be restored; the mode rate Tory that the golden days which the church and the landed interest had enjoyed during the last years of Queen Anne, would immediately return. It would have been impossible to satisfy everybody. The conquerors satisfied nobody.
If the fate of Walpole's colleagues had been inseparably bound up with his, he probably would, even after the unfavourable elections of 1741, have been able to weather the storm. But as soon as it was understood that the attack was directed against him alone, and that, if he were sacrificed, his associates might expect advantageous and honourable terms, the ministerial ranks began to waver, and the murmur of sauve qui peut was heard. That Walpole had foul play is almost certain: but to what extent it is difficult to say. Lord Islay was suspected; the Duke of Newcastle something more than suspected. It would have been strange, indeed, if his grace had been idle when treason was hatching.
"Che Gan fu traditor prima che nato." "His name," said Sir Robert, "is perfidy."
We have no reverence for the memory of those who were then called the patriots. We are for the principles of good government against Walpole; and for Walpole against the opposition. It was most desirable that a purer system should be introduced; but if the old system was to be retained, no man was so fit as Walpole to be at the head of affairs. There were frightful abuses in the government, abuses more than sufficient to justify a strong opposition; but the party opposed to Walpole, while they stimulated the popular fury to the highest point, were at no pains to direct it aright. Indeed, they studiously misdirected it. They misrepresented the evil. They prescribed inefficient and pernicious remedies. They held up a single man as the sole cause
Never was a battle more manfully fought cut than the last struggle of the old statesman. His clear judgment, his long experience, and his fearless spirit, enabled him to maintain a defensive war through half a session. To the last his heart never failed him; and, when at length he yielded, he yielded, not to the threats 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 could no longer retain his power, he compounded for honour and security, and retired to his garden and his paintings, leaving to those who had overthrown him-shame, discord, and
Every thing was in confusion. It has been said that the confusion was produced by the dexterous policy of Walpole; and undoubtedly, he did his best to sow dissensions amongst his triumphant enemies. But there was little for him to do. Victory had completely dissolved the hollow truce which the two sections of the opposition had but imperfectly observed, even while the event of the contest was still doubtful. A thousand questions were opened in a moment. A thousand conflicting claims were preferred. It was impossible to follow any line of policy, which would not have been offensive to a large portion of the successful party. It was impossible to find places for a tenth part of those who thought that they had a right to be considered. While the parliamentary leaders were preaching patience and confidence, while their followers were clamoring for reward, a still louder voice was heard from without the terrible cry of a people angry, they hardly knew with whom, and impatient, they hardly knew for what. The day of retribution had arrived. The opposition reaped what they had sown: inflamed with hatred and cupidity, despairing of success by any ordinary mode of political warfare, and blind to consequences which, though remote, were certain, they had conjured up a devil which they could not lay. They had made the public mind drunk with calumny and declamation. They had raised expectations which it was impossible to satisfy. The downfall of
been in full operation before his entrance into public life, and which continued to be in full operation when some of these very bawlers had succeeded to his power. They thwarted his best measures. They drove him into an unjustifiable war against his will. Constantly talking in magnificent language about tyranny, corruption, wicked ministers, servile courtiers, the liberties of Englishmen, the Great Charter, the rights for which our fathers bled-Timo leon, Brutus, Hampden, Sydney-they had absolutely nothing to propose which would have been an improvement on our institutions. Instead of directing the public mind to definite reforms, which might have completed the work of the Revolution, which might have brought the legislature into harmony with the nation, and which might have prevented the crown from doing by influence what it could no longer do by prerogative, they excited a vague craving for change, by which they pro fited for a single moment, and of which, as they well deserved, they were soon the victims.
Among the reforms which the state then required, there were two of paramount importance, two which would alone have rernedied almost every abuse, and without which all other remedies would have been unavail ing-the publicity of parliamentary proceed. ings, and the abolition of the rotten boroughs. Neither of these was thought of. It seems to us clear, that if these were not adopted, ali other measures would have been illusory. Some of the patriots suggested changes which would, beyond all doubt, have increased thʊ existing evils a hundredfold. These men wished to transfer the disposal of employ ments, and the command of the army, trom the crown to the Parliament; and this on the