« AnteriorContinuar »
a lurking dread of any measure on which the religious sentiments of the community could be brought to bear, as if aware that these being subjects on which men feel rather than reason, it is impossible to descry beforehand the course public opinion may take upon them, or fix bounds to the excitement they may produce. This, and not any indifference to the great cause of toleration, always kept him from seeking securities which there is every reason to think he would naturally have wished to obtain, against the High Church party, and in favour of the Sectaries.
The sagacity of such men as Godolphin and Marlborough early descried Walpole's merit, which at once procured him their favour-with the latter, to whom he owed his first appointment of Secretary at War, his intercourse was always intimate and confidential. When a vile Court intrigue saved France from being undone by the victories of that great man; when what St. Simon calls the "Miracle de Londres" unexpectedly rescued Louis XIV. from his doom; when, as Frederick II. many years after said, Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, were all unable to defend him against detraction, and the French King was lost bad the intrigues of a mistress of the robes and a bedchamber-woman suffered the Great Captain to remain two years longer in power-Walpole threw up his place with the Duke, and nobly refused to join some shuffling place-seeking Whigs, who were talked over by Harley and St. John to remain under the Tories. This was an offence not to be forgiven. His aggravation of it, by boldly defending the conduct of Marlborough against the slanderous attacks of the adverse faction, produced the charge against him of corruption while at the War-Office: and he was sent to the Tower upon an accusation of having received 9007. from a contractor; was expelled the House of Commons, though never either impeached or prosecuted; and, on being re-elected in the same Parliament, was declared ineligible by a majority of the House.
That Walpole, through the whole of this proceeding, was regarded as the victim of party rancour; that but for the factious spirit of the day he never would have been accused; that nothing can be less decisive against any one than a vote carried by a majority of twelve in a full House of
Commons, in which many of the adverse party voted with the accused, and many more refused to vote at all; and that the greatest distrust of their case was shown by the accusers in never venturing to institute judicial proceedings of any kind-may all be easily admitted; and yet there rests a stain upon this part of Walpole's public conduct. For what was his defence? Not to deny that the contractors had given two notes, one of 500 guineas, and the other of as many pounds (of which all but 100 were paid), but to affirm that they were only paid through Walpole's hand to a friend named Mann, whom he had meant to favour by giving him a share of the contract, and who had agreed to take so much for his proportion of the profit. Mann was dead: the contractors had made the notes payable to Walpole in ignorance of Mann's name, and only knowing he was put upon them as a friend of the Minister; and thus a case of fraud and suspicion appeared against the latter, which the unfortunate accident of the former's death prevented from being clearly removed. Now, that such a proceeding, admitting it to have been as Walpole himself describes it, would in our purer time have been deemed most incorrect, nay, sufficient to stain the character of any minister, cannot be doubted. In those days the course of office seems to have sanctioned such impropriety; and that no man was ever injured by having so behaved, any more than the reputations of some French ministers seem to be the worse for the wear they undergo on the Stock Exchange, must be obvious from the fact of Walpole having, in four years after, been placed at the head of the Treasury, though without the place of Premier; and afterwards becoming, and continuing head of the Government for nearly the whole residue of his life, with no diminution of his influence or his estimation in consequence of the transaction at the War-Office, and with hardly any allusion ever made to that remarkable passage of his life, during the many years of the most factious opposition which his long administration encountered,-when, for want of the materials of attack, it was seriously urged against him that so long a tenure of power by one man was detrimental to the state, if not dangerous to the constitution. Nothing can more strikingly show the great improvement which the principles of
public men and the practice of the constitution have undergone during the last hundred years.
When he quitted office, a charge of a different complexion, though connected with pecuniary malversation, was made against the veteran statesman. A sum of between 17,000l. and 18,000l. had been received by him upon two Treasury orders, two days before he resigned, in February, 1741-2; and to raise the money before the Exchequer forms could be gone through, they were pawned with the officer of the Bank. Now, Walpole never would give a detailed explanation of this transaction, but began to draw up a vindication of himself, alleging that the money was taken, with the King's approbation, for the public service. This paper is extant, but unfinished; and it consists of a clear and distinct statement of the course of the Exchequer in issuing money, from which the inference is, that no one can appropriate any sum to himself in defiance of, or escape from, so many guards and checks. This, however, is a lame defence, when the receipt of the money by him is admitted. The reason
offered for his desisting from the completion of the paper is, that he must either leave it incomplete, or betray the secret service of the Crown. And it may be admitted that, except the suspicion arising from the date of the transaction, there is nothing in it more than an ordinary dealing with secret service money.
The general charge of peculation grounded on the comparison of his expenditure with his means, appears more difficult to meet. With a fortune originally of about 2,000l. a-year, and which never rose to more than double that amount, he lived with a profusion amounting to extravagance; insomuch that one of his yearly meetings at Houghton, "the Congress" as it was called, in autumn, and which lasted six or eight weeks, and was attended by all his supporters in either House and by their friends, cost him 3,000l. a-year. His buildings and purchases were estimated at 200,0007., and to this must be added 40,000l. for pictures. Now, it is true that for many years he had his own official income of 3,000l., with 2,000l. more of a sinecure, and his family had between 3,000l. and 4,000l. more, in places of the like description. Still, if the *2,000l., granted in reversion only, did not fall in till 1737.
expensive style of his living be considered, and that his income was at the very outside only 12,000l. clear, including the places of his sons, it is quite impossible to understand how above 200,000l., or nearly twice the average value of his whole private property, could have been accumulated by savings. His incumbrances were only paid off by his wife's fortune. His gains upon the fortunate sale of his South Sea stock, just before the fall, could hardly account for the sum accumulated, although he states, in a letter to one of his friends, that he got a thousand per cent. on what he purchased. On the whole, we must be content to admit that some cloud hangs over this part of his history; and that the generally prevailing attacks against him in this quarter have not been very successfully repulsed.
It has been much more universally believed, that he carried on the Government with a profuse application of the influence derived from patronage; and that the most open bribery entered largely into his plan of parliamentary management. That in those days the men were far less pure who filled the highest places in the State, and that parliamentary as well as ministerial virtue was pitched upon a lower scale than it happily has been, since a prying and fearless press and a watchful public scrutinized the conduct of all persons in any situation of trust, may be at once admitted. It is a truth which has been repeatedly asserted in these pages; and if any conclusive proof of it were required, it is what we have in the universally known fact, that the combinations of political party now proceed so much more upon principle than upon personal connexions; or that when they are framed upon the latter, the pretext of principle is always used to cloak over arrangements which the improved character of the times will no longer suffer to meet the light. It may be further granted, that the period of Walpole's power was one likely to introduce extraordinary forces into the political system, since the stake was not always a ministry alone, but oftentimes also a crown. When such is the game, measures are readily resorted to, which in the ordinary conflicts or matches of politicians, would be reluctantly if at all adopted. That it was usual in those days for men out of office who had voted with the Govern
ment during the session, and had obtained no promotion, nor any other favours, to receive sums of money—whether as a token of ministerial gratitude, or as a reimbursement of their expenses in attending parliament-has been so often asserted, and in some instances with such detailed particulars, that it seems to pass for one of the usual modes of House of Commons' management-pretty much like the shares (technically called slices) of loans distributed among persons in certain offices.* But we may safely assert, that Sir Robert Walpole's reputation for having carried on the Government with unprecedented corruption rests on no better ground than his open and honest way of avowing the more accustomed exercise of patronage, and his reflections, rather merry than well considered, on the nature of political men-which gave rise to the notion, that he held statesmen as more venal than others had believed them to be. His famous saying, that "all men have their price," can prove nothing unless "price" be defined; and, if a large and liberal sense is given to the word, the proposition more resembles a truism than a sneer, or an ebullition of official misanthropy. But it has been positively affirmed that the remark never was made; for it is said that an important word is omitted which wholly changes the sense; and that Walpole only said, in reference to certain factious or profligate adversaries, and their adherents resembling themselves, "all these men have their price." His general tone of sarcasm, when speaking of patriotism and political gratitude, and others of the more fleeting virtues, is well known. "Patriots," he said, "are easily raised: Í have myself made many a one. 'Tis but to refuse an unreasonable demand, and up springs a patriot." So the gratitude of political men he defined to be " a lively sense of favours to come." The opinion of
* Some notion of the free use made in those days of the current coin as a political agent, may be gathered from the fact which Shippen himself related to the celebrated Dr. Middleton. The Prince of Wales, to testify his satisfaction with a speech which the sturdy old Jacobite had made, sent him 10007. by General Churchill, Groom of his Bedchamber. Shippen refused it. That Walpole himself had known of similar attempts made on Shippen's virtue by the Hanoverian party, is pretty evident from bis well-known saying respecting that honest man-"I won't say who is corrupt, but who is not corruptible I will say, and that is Mr. Shippen."
† Coxe's Life of Walpole, vol. i. p. 757.