The prospect which lay before him was gloomy. The coalition of which he was the author and the chief had, during some months, been in constant danger of dissolution. By what strenuous exertions, by what ingenious expedients, by what blandishments, by what bribes, he succeeded in preventing his allies from throwing themselves, one by one, at the feet of France, can be but imperfectly known. The fullest and most authentic record of the labours and sacrifices by which he kept together, during eight years, a crowd of fainthearted and treacherous potentates, negligent of the common interest and jealous of each other, is to be found in his correspondence with Heinsius. In that correspondence William is all himself. He had, in the course of his eventful life, to sustain some high parts for which he was not eminently qualified; and, in those parts, his success was imperfect. As Sovereign of England, he showed abilities and virtues which entitle him to honourable mention in history; but his deficiencies were great. He was to the last a stranger amongst us, cold, reserved, never in good spirits, never at his ease. His kingdom was a place of exile. His finest palaces were prisons. He was always counting the days which must elapse before he should again see the land of his birth, the clipped trees, the wings of the innumerable windmills, the nests of the storks on the tall gables, and the long lines of painted villas reflected in the sleeping canals. He took no pains to hide the preference which he felt for his native soil and for his early friends; and therefore, though he rendered great services to our country, he did not reign in our hearts. As a general in the field, again, he showed rare courage and capacity; but, from whatever cause, he was, as a tactician, inferior to some of his contemporaries, who, in general powers of mind, were far inferior to him. The business for which he was preeminently fitted was diplomacy, in the highest sense of the word. It may be doubted whether he has ever had a superior in the art of conducting those great negotiations on which the welfare of the commonwealth of nations depends. His skill in this department of politics was never more severely tasked or more signally proved than during the latter part of 1691 and the earlier part of 1692.
One of his chief difficulties was caused by the sullen and menacing demeanour of the Northern powers. Denmark and Sweden had at one time seemed disposed to join the coalition; but they had early become cold, and were fast becoming hostile. From France they flattered themselves that they had little to fear. It was not very probable that her armies would cross the Elbe, or that her fleets would force a passage through the Sound. But the naval strength of England and Holland united might well excite apprehension at Stockholm and Copenhagen. Soon arose vexatious questions of maritime right, questions such as, in almost every extensive war of modern times, have arisen between belligerents and neutrals. The Scandinavian princes complained that the legitimate trade between the Baltic and France was tyrannically interrupted. Though they had not in general been on very friendly terms with each other, they began to draw close together, intrigued at every petty German court, and tried to form what William called a Third Party in Europe. The King of Sweden, who, as Duke of Pomerania, was bound to send three thousand men for the defence of the Empire, sent, instead of them, his advice that the allies would make peace on the best terms which they could get. The King of Denmark seized a great number of Dutch merchantships, and collected in Holstein an army which caused no small uneasiness to his neighbours. "I fear," William wrote, in an hour of deep dejection, to Heinsius, "I fear that the object of this Third Party is a peace which will bring in its train the slavery of Europe. The day will come when Sweden and her confederates will know too late how great an error they have committed. They are farther, no doubt, than we from the danger; and therefore it is that they are thus bent on working our ruin and their own. That France will now consent to reasonable terms is not to be expected; and it were better to fall sword in hand than to submit to whatever she may dictate."
While the King was thus disquieted by the conduct of the Northern powers, ominous signs began to appear in a very different quarter. It had, from the first, been no easy matter to induce sovereigns who hated, and who, in their own dominions, persecuted, the Protestant religion, to countenance the revolution which had saved that religion from a great peril. But happily the example and the authority of the Vatican had overcome their scruples. Innocent the Eleventh and Alexander the Eighth had regarded William with ill concealed partiality. He was not indeed their friend; but he was their enemy's enemy; and James had been, and, if restored, must again be, their enemy's vassal. To the heretic nephew therefore they gave their effective support, to the orthodox uncle only compliments and benedictions. But Alexander the Eighth had occupied the papal throne little more than fifteen months. His successor, Antonio Pignatelli, who took the name of Innocent the Twelfth, was impatient to be reconciled to Lewis. Lewis was now sensible that he had committed a great error when he had roused against himself at once the spirit of Protestantism and the spirit of Popery. He permitted the French Bishops to submit themselves to the Holy See. The dispute, which had, at one time, seemed likely to end in a great Gallican schism, was accommodated; and there was reason to believe that the influence of the head of the Church would be exerted for the purpose of severing the ties which bound so many Catholic princes to the Calvinist who had usurped the British throne.
Meanwhile the coalition, which the Third Party on one side and the Pope on the other were trying to dissolve, was in no small danger of falling to pieces from mere rottenness. Two of the allied powers, and two only, were hearty in the common cause; England, drawing after her the other British kingdoms; and Holland, drawing after her the other Batavian commonwealths. England and Holland were indeed torn by internal factions, and were separated from each other by mutual jealousies and antipathies; but both were fully resolved not to submit to French domination; and both were ready to bear their share, and more than their share, of the charges of the contest. Most of the members of the confederacy were not nations, but men, an Emperor, a King, Electors, Dukes; and of these men there was scarcely one whose whole soul was in the struggle, scarcely one who did not hang back, who did not find some excuse for omitting to fulfil his engagements, who did not expect to be hired to defend his own rights and interests against the common enemy. But the war was the war of the people of England and of the people of Holland. Had it not been so, the burdens which it made necessary would not have been borne by either England or Holland during a single year. When William said that he would rather die sword in hand than humble himself before France, he expressed what was felt, not by himself alone, but by two great communities of which he was the first magistrate. With those two communities, unhappily, other states had little sympathy. Indeed those two communities were regarded by other states as rich, plaindealing, generous dupes are regarded by needy sharpers. England and Holland were wealthy; and they were zealous. Their wealth excited the cupidity of the whole alliance; and to that wealth their zeal was the key. They were persecuted with sordid importunity by all their confederates, from Caesar, who, in the pride of his solitary dignity, would not honour King William with the title of Majesty, down to the smallest Margrave who could see his whole principality from the cracked windows of the mean and ruinous old house which he called his palace. It was not enough that England and Holland furnished much more than their contingents to the war by land, and bore unassisted the whole charge of the war by sea. They were beset by a crowd of illustrious mendicants, some rude, some obsequious, but all indefatigable and insatiable. One prince came mumping to them annually with a lamentable story about his distresses. A more sturdy beggar threatened to join the Third Party, and to make a separate peace with France, if his demands were not granted. Every Sovereign too had his ministers and favourites; and these ministers and favourites were perpetually hinting that France was willing to pay them for detaching their masters from the coalition, and that it would be prudent in England and Holland to outbid France.
Yet the embarrassment caused by the rapacity of the allied courts was scarcely greater than the embarrassment caused by their ambition and their pride. This prince had set his heart on some childish distinction, a title or a cross, and would do nothing for the common cause till his wishes were accomplished. That prince chose to fancy that he had been slighted, and would not stir till reparation had been made to him. The Duke of Brunswick Lunenburg would not furnish a battalion for the defence of Germany unless he was made an Elector. The Elector of Brandenburg declared that he was as hostile as he had ever been to France; but he had been ill used by the Spanish government; and he therefore would not suffer his soldiers to be employed in the defence of the Spanish Netherlands. He was willing to bear his share of the war; but it must be in his own way; he must have the command of a distinct army; and he must be stationed between the Rhine and the Meuse. The Elector of Saxony complained that bad winter quarters had been assigned to his troops; he therefore recalled them just when they should have been preparing to take the field, but very coolly offered to send them back if England and Holland would give him four hundred thousand rixdollars.
It might have been expected that at least the two chiefs of the House of Austria would have put forth, at this conjuncture, all their strength against the rival House of Bourbon. Unfortunately they could not be induced to exert themselves vigorously even for their own preservation. They were deeply interested in keeping the French out of Italy. Yet they could with difficulty be prevailed upon to lend the smallest assistance to the Duke of Savoy. They seemed to think it the business of England and Holland to defend the passes of the Alps, and to prevent the armies of Lewis from overflowing Lombardy. To the Emperor indeed the war against France was a secondary object. His first object was the war against Turkey. He was dull and bigoted. His mind misgave him that the war against France was, in some sense, a war against the Catholic religion; and the war against Turkey was a crusade. His recent campaign on the Danube had been successful. He might easily have concluded an honourable peace with the Porte, and have turned his arms westward. But he had conceived the hope that he might extend his hereditary dominions at the expense of the Infidels. Visions of a triumphant entry into Constantinople and of a Te Deum in Saint Sophia's had risen in his brain. He not only employed in the East a force more than sufficient to have defended Piedmont and reconquered Loraine; but he seemed to think that England and Holland were bound to reward him largely for neglecting their interests and pursuing his own.
Spain already was what she continued to be down to our own time. Of the Spain which had domineered over the land and the ocean, over the Old and the New World, of the Spain which had, in the short space of twelve years, led captive a Pope and a King of France, a Sovereign of Mexico and a Sovereign of Peru, of the Spain which had sent an army to the walls of Paris and had equipped a mighty fleet to invade England, nothing remained but an arrogance which had once excited terror and hatred, but which could now excite only derision. In extent, indeed, the dominions of the Catholic King exceeded those of Rome when Rome was at the zenith of power. But the huge mass lay torpid and helpless, and could be insulted or despoiled with impunity. The whole administration, military and naval, financial and colonial, was utterly disorganized. Charles was a fit representative of his kingdom, impotent physically, intellectually and morally, sunk in ignorance, listlessness and superstition, yet swollen with a notion of his own dignity, and quick to imagine and to resent affronts. So wretched had his education been that, when he was told of the fall of Mons, the most important fortress in his vast empire, he asked whether Mons was in England. Among the ministers who were raised up and pulled down by his sickly caprice, was none capable of applying a remedy to the distempers of the State. In truth to brace anew the nerves of that paralysed body would have been a hard task even for Ximenes. No servant of the Spanish Crown occupied a more important post, and none was more unfit for an important post, than the Marquess of Gastanaga. He was Governor of the Netherlands; and in the Netherlands it seemed probable that the fate of Christendom would be decided. He had discharged his trust as every public trust was then discharged in every part of that vast monarchy on which it was boastfully said that the sun never set. Fertile and rich as was the country which he ruled, he threw on England and Holland the whole charge of defending it. He expected that arms, ammunition, waggons, provisions, every thing, would be furnished by the heretics. It had never occurred to him that it was his business, and not theirs, to put Mons in a condition to stand a siege. The public voice loudly accused him of having sold that celebrated stronghold to France. But it is probable that he was guilty of nothing worse than the haughty apathy and sluggishness characteristic of his nation.
Such was the state of the coalition of which William was the head. There were moments when he felt himself overwhelmed, when his spirits sank, when his patience was wearied out, and when his constitutional irritability broke forth. "I cannot," he wrote, "offer a suggestion without being met by a demand for a subsidy." "I have refused point blank," he wrote on another occasion, when he had been importuned for money, "it is impossible that the States General and England can bear the charge of the army on the Rhine, of the army in Piedmont, and of the whole defence of Flanders, to say nothing of the immense cost of the naval war. If our allies can do nothing for themselves, the sooner the alliance goes to pieces the better." But, after every short fit of despondency and ill humour, he called up all the force of his mind, and put a strong curb on his temper. Weak, mean, false, selfish, as too many of the confederates were, it was only by their help that he could accomplish what he had from his youth up considered as his mission. If they abandoned him, France would be dominant without a rival in Europe. Well as they deserved to be punished, he would not, to punish them, acquiesce in the subjugation of the whole civilised world. He set himself therefore to surmount some difficulties and to evade others. The Scandinavian powers he conciliated by waiving, reluctantly indeed, and not without a hard internal struggle, some of his maritime rights. At Rome his influence, though indirectly exercised, balanced that of the Pope himself. Lewis and James found that they had not a friend at the Vatican except Innocent; and Innocent, whose nature was gentle and irresolute, shrank from taking a course directly opposed to the sentiments of all who surrounded him. In private conversations with Jacobite agents he declared himself devoted to the interests of the House of Stuart; but in his public acts he observed a strict neutrality. He sent twenty thousand crowns to Saint Germains; but he excused himself to the enemies of France by protesting that this was not a subsidy for any political purpose, but merely an alms to be distributed among poor British Catholics. He permitted prayers for the good cause to be read in the English College at Rome; but he insisted that those prayers should be drawn up in general terms, and that no name should be mentioned. It was in vain that the ministers of the Houses of Stuart and Bourbon adjured him to take a more decided course. "God knows," he exclaimed on one occasion, "that I would gladly shed my blood to restore the King of England. But what can I do? If I stir, I am told that I am favouring the French, and helping them to set up an universal monarchy. I am not like the old Popes. Kings will not listen to me as they listened to my predecessors. There is no religion now, nothing but wicked, worldly policy. The Prince of Orange is master. He governs us all. He has got such a hold on the Emperor and on the King of Spain that neither of them dares to displease him. God help us! He alone can help us." And, as the old man spoke, he beat the table with his hand in an agony of impotent grief and indignation.
To keep the German princes steady was no easy task; but it was accomplished. Money was distributed among them, much less indeed than they asked, but much more than they had any decent pretence for asking. With the Elector of Saxony a composition was made. He had, together with a strong appetite for subsidies, a great desire to be a member of the most select and illustrious orders of knighthood. It seems that, instead of the four hundred thousand rixdollars which he had demanded, he consented to accept one hundred thousand and the Garter. His prime minister Schoening, the most covetous and perfidious of mankind, was secured by a pension. For the Duke of Brunswick Lunenburg, William, not without difficulty, procured the long desired title of Elector of Hanover. By such means as these the breaches which had divided the coalition were so skilfully repaired that it appeared still to present a firm front to the enemy. William had complained bitterly to the Spanish government of the incapacity and inertness of Gastanaga. The Spanish government, helpless and drowsy as it was, could not be altogether insensible to the dangers which threatened Flanders and Brabant. Gastanaga was recalled; and William was invited to take upon himself the government of the Low Countries, with powers not less than regal. Philip the Second would not easily have believed that, within a century after his death, his greatgrandson would implore the greatgrandson of William the Silent to exercise the authority of a sovereign at Brussels.
The offer was in one sense tempting; but William was too wise to accept it. He knew that the population of the Spanish Netherlands was firmly attached to the Church of Rome. Every act of a Protestant ruler was certain to be regarded with suspicion by the clergy and people of those countries. Already Gastanaga, mortified by his disgrace, had written to inform the Court of Rome that changes were in contemplation which would make Ghent and Antwerp as heretical as Amsterdam and London. It had doubtless also occurred to William that if, by governing mildly and justly, and by showing a decent respect for the ceremonies and the ministers of the Roman Catholic religion, he should succeed in obtaining the confidence of the Belgians, he would inevitably raise against himself a storm of obloquy in our island. He knew by experience what it was to govern two nations strongly attached to two different Churches. A large party among the Episcopalians of England could not forgive him for having consented to the establishment of the presbyterian polity in Scotland. A large party among the Presbyterians of Scotland blamed him for maintaining the episcopal polity in England. If he now took under his protection masses, processions, graven images, friaries, nunneries, and, worst of all, Jesuit pulpits, Jesuit confessionals and Jesuit colleges, what could he expect but that England and Scotland would join in one cry of reprobation? He therefore refused to accept the government of the Low Countries, and proposed that it should be entrusted to the Elector of Bavaria. The Elector of Bavaria was, after the Emperor, the most powerful of the Roman Catholic potentates of Germany. He was young, brave, and ambitious of military distinction. The Spanish Court was willing to appoint him, and he was desirous to be appointed; but much delay was caused by an absurd difficulty. The Elector thought it beneath him to ask for what he wished to have. The formalists of the Cabinet of Madrid thought it beneath the dignity of the Catholic King to give what had not been asked. Mediation was necessary, and was at last successful. But much time was lost; and the spring was far advanced before the new Governor of the Netherlands entered on his functions.
William had saved the coalition from the danger of perishing by disunion. But by no remonstrance, by no entreaty, by no bribe, could he prevail on his allies to be early in the field. They ought to have profited by the severe lesson which had been given them in the preceding year. But again every one of them lingered, and wondered why the rest were lingering; and again he who singly wielded the whole power of France was found, as his haughty motto had long boasted, a match for a multitude of adversaries. His enemies, while still unready, learned with dismay that he had taken the field in person at the head of his nobility. On no occasion had that gallant aristocracy appeared with more splendour in his train. A single circumstance may suffice to give a notion of the pomp and luxury of his camp. Among the musketeers of his household rode, for the first time, a stripling of seventeen, who soon afterwards succeeded to the title of Duke of Saint Simon, and to whom we owe those inestimable memoirs which have preserved, for the delight and instruction of many lands and of many generations, the vivid picture of a France which has long passed away. Though the boy's family was at that time very hard pressed for money, he travelled with thirty-five horses and sumpter mules. The princesses of the blood, each surrounded by a group of highborn and graceful ladies, accompanied the King; and the smiles of so many charming women inspired the throng of vain and voluptuous but highspirited gentlemen with more than common courage. In the brilliant crowd which surrounded the French Augustus appeared the French Virgil, the graceful, the tender, the melodious Racine. He had, in conformity with the prevailing fashion, become devout, had given up writing for the theatre; and, having determined to apply himself vigorously to the discharge of the duties which belonged to him as historiographer of France, he now came to see the great events which it was his office to record. In the neighbourhood of Mons, Lewis entertained the ladies with the most magnificent review that had ever been seen in modern Europe. A hundred and twenty thousand of the finest troops in the world were drawn up in a line eight miles long. It may be doubted whether such an army had ever been brought together under the Roman eagles. The show began early in the morning, and was not over when the long summer day closed. Racine left the ground, astonished, deafened, dazzled, and tired to death. In a private letter he ventured to give utterance to an amiable wish which he probably took good care not to whisper in the courtly circle: "Would to heaven that all these poor fellows were in their cottages again with their wives and their little ones!"
After this superb pageant Lewis announced his intention of attacking Namur. In five days he was under the walls of that city, at the head of more than thirty thousand men. Twenty thousand peasants, pressed in those parts of the Netherlands which the French occupied, were compelled to act as pioneers. Luxemburg, with eighty thousand men, occupied a strong position on the road between Namur and Brussels, and was prepared to give battle to any force which might attempt to raise the siege. This partition of duties excited no surprise. It had long been known that the great Monarch loved sieges, and that he did not love battles. He professed to think that the real test of military skill was a siege. The event of an encounter between two armies on an open plain was, in his opinion, often determined by chance; but only science could prevail against ravelins and bastions which science had constructed. His detractors sneeringly pronounced it fortunate that the department of the military art which His Majesty considered as the noblest was one in which it was seldom necessary for him to expose to serious risk a life invaluable to his people.
Namur, situated at the confluence of the Sambre and the Meuse, was one of the great fortresses of Europe. The town lay in the plain, and had no strength except what was derived from art. But art and nature had combined to fortify that renowned citadel which, from the summit of a lofty rock, looks down on a boundless expanse of cornfields, woods and meadows, watered by two fine rivers. The people of the city and of the surrounding region were proud of their impregnable castle. Their boast was that never, in all the wars which had devastated the Netherlands, had skill or valour been able to penetrate those walls. The neighbouring fastnesses, famed throughout the world for their strength, Antwerp and Ostend, Ypres, Lisle and Tournay, Mons and Valenciennes, Cambray and Charleroi, Limburg and Luxemburg, had opened their gates to conquerors; but never once had the flag been pulled down from the battlements of Namur. That nothing might be wanting to the interest of the siege, the two great masters of the art of fortification were opposed to each other. Vauban had during many years been regarded as the first of engineers; but a formidable rival had lately arisen, Menno, Baron of Cohorn, the ablest officer in the service of the States General. The defences of Namur had been recently strengthened and repaired under Cohorn's superintendence; and he was now within the walls. Vauban was in the camp of Lewis. It might therefore be expected that both the attack and the defence would be conducted with consummate ability.
By this time the allied armies had assembled; but it was too late. William hastened towards Namur. He menaced the French works, first from the west, then from the north, then from the east. But between him and the lines of circumvallation lay the army of Luxemburg, turning as he turned, and always so strongly posted that to attack it would have been the height of imprudence. Meanwhile the besiegers, directed by the skill of Vauban and animated by the presence of Lewis, made rapid progress. There were indeed many difficulties to be surmounted and many hardships to be endured. The weather was stormy; and, on the eighth of June, the feast of Saint Medard, who holds in the French Calendar the same inauspicious place which in our Calendar belongs to Saint Swithin, the rain fell in torrents. The Sambre rose and covered many square miles on which the harvest was green. The Mehaigne whirled down its bridges to the Meuse. All the roads became swamps. The trenches were so deep in water and mire that it was the business of three days to move a gun from one battery to another. The six thousand waggons which had accompanied the French army were useless. It was necessary that gunpowder, bullets, corn, hay, should be carried from place to place on the backs of the war horses. Nothing but the authority of Lewis could, in such circumstances, have maintained order and inspired cheerfulness. His soldiers, in truth, showed much more reverence for him than for what their religion had made sacred. They cursed Saint Medard heartily, and broke or burned every image of him that could be found. But for their King there was nothing that they were not ready to do and to bear. In spite of every obstacle they constantly gained ground. Cohorn was severely wounded while defending with desperate resolution a fort which he had himself constructed, and of which he was proud. His place could not be supplied. The governor was a feeble man whom Gastanaga had appointed, and whom William had recently advised the Elector of Bavaria to remove. The spirit of the garrison gave way. The town surrendered on the eighth day of the siege, the citadel about three weeks later.
The history of the fall of Namur in 1692 bears a close resemblance to the history of the fail of Mons in 1691. Both in 1691 and in 1692, Lewis, the sole and absolute master of the resources of his kingdom, was able to open the campaign, before William, the captain of a coalition, had brought together his dispersed forces. In both years the advantage of having the first move decided the event of the game. At Namur, as at Mons, Lewis, assisted by Vauban conducted the siege; Luxemburg covered it; William vainly tried to raise it, and, with deep mortification, assisted as a spectator at the victory of his enemy.
In one respect however the fate of the two fortresses was very different. Mons was delivered up by its own inhabitants. Namur might perhaps have been saved if the garrison had been as zealous and determined as the population. Strange to say, in this place, so long subject to a foreign rule, there was found a patriotism resembling that of the little Greek commonwealths. There is no reason to believe that the burghers cared about the balance of power, or had any preference for James or for William, for the Most Christian King or for the Most Catholic King. But every citizen considered his own honour as bound up with the honour of the maiden fortress. It is true that the French did not abuse their victory. No outrage was committed; the privileges of the municipality were respected, the magistrates were not changed. Yet the people could not see a conqueror enter their hitherto unconquered castle without tears of rage and shame. Even the barefooted Carmelites, who had renounced all pleasures, all property, all society, all domestic affection, whose days were all fast days, who passed month after month without uttering a word, were strangely moved. It was in vain that Lewis attempted to soothe them by marks of respect and by munificent bounty. Whenever they met a French uniform they turned their heads away with a look which showed that a life of prayer, of abstinence and of silence had left one earthly feeling still unsubdued.
This was perhaps the moment at which the arrogance of Lewis reached the highest point. He had achieved the last and the most splendid military exploit of his life. His confederated foes, English, Dutch and German, had, in their own despite, swelled his triumph, and had been witnesses of the glory which made their hearts sick. His exultation was boundless. The inscriptions on the medals which he struck to commemorate his success, the letters by which he enjoined the prelates of his kingdom to sing the Te Deum, were boastful and sarcastic. His people, a people among whose many fine qualities moderation in prosperity cannot be reckoned, seemed for a time to be drunk with pride. Even Boileau, hurried along by the prevailing enthusiasm, forgot the good sense and good taste to which he owed his reputation. He fancied himself a lyric poet, and gave vent to his feelings in a hundred and sixty lines of frigid bombast about Alcides, Mars, Bacchus, Ceres, the lyre of Orpheus, the Thracian oaks and the Permessian nymphs. He wondered whether Namur, had, like Troy, been built by Apollo and Neptune. He asked what power could subdue a city stronger than that before which the Greeks lay ten years; and he returned answer to himself that such a miracle could be wrought only by Jupiter or by Lewis. The feather in the hat of Lewis was the loadstar of victory. To Lewis all things must yield, princes, nations, winds, waters. In conclusion the poet addressed himself to the banded enemies of France, and tauntingly bade them carry back to their homes the tidings that Namur had been taken in their sight. Before many months had elapsed both the boastful king and the boastful poet were taught that it is prudent as well as graceful to be modest in the hour of victory.
One mortification Lewis had suffered even in the midst of his prosperity. While he lay before Namur, he heard the sounds of rejoicing from the distant camp of the allies. Three peals of thunder from a hundred and forty pieces of cannon were answered by three volleys from sixty thousand muskets. It was soon known that these salutes were fired on account of the battle of La Hogue. The French King exerted himself to appear serene. "They make a strange noise," he said, "about the burning of a few ships." In truth he was much disturbed, and the more so because a report had reached the Low Countries that there had been a sea fight, and that his fleet had been victorious. His good humour however was soon restored by the brilliant success of those operations which were under his own immediate direction. When the siege was over, he left Luxemburg in command of the army, and returned to Versailles. At Versailles the unfortunate Tourville soon presented himself, and was graciously received. As soon as he appeared in the circle, the King welcomed him in a loud voice. "I am perfectly satisfied with you and with my sailors. We have been beaten, it is true; but your honour and that of the nation are unsullied."
Though Lewis had quitted the Netherlands, the eyes of all Europe were still fixed on that region. The armies there had been strengthened by reinforcements drawn from many quarters. Every where else the military operations of the year were languid and without interest. The Grand Vizier and Lewis of Baden did little more than watch each other on the Danube. Marshal Noailles and the Duke of Medina Sidonia did little more than watch each other under the Pyrenees. On the Upper Rhine, and along the frontier which separates France from Piedmont, an indecisive predatory war was carried on, by which the soldiers suffered little and the cultivators of the soil much. But all men looked, with anxious expectation of some great event, to the frontier of Brabant, where William was opposed to Luxemburg.
Luxemburg, now in his sixty-sixth year, had risen, by slow degrees, and by the deaths of several great men, to the first place among the generals of his time. He was of that noble house of Montmorency which united many mythical and many historical titles to glory, which boasted that it sprang from the first Frank who was baptized into the name of Christ in the fifth century, and which had, since the eleventh century, given to France a long and splendid succession of Constables and Marshals. In valour and abilities Luxemburg was not inferior to any of his illustrious race. But, highly descended and highly gifted as he was, he had with difficulty surmounted the obstacles which impeded him in the road to fame. If he owed much to the bounty of nature and fortune, he had suffered still more from their spite. His features were frightfully harsh, his stature was diminutive; a huge and pointed hump rose on his back. His constitution was feeble and sickly. Cruel imputations had been thrown on his morals. He had been accused of trafficking with sorcerers and with vendors of poison, had languished long in a dungeon, and had at length regained his liberty without entirely regaining his honour. He had always been disliked both by Louvois and by Lewis. Yet the war against the European coalition had lasted but a very short time when both the minister and the King felt that the general who was personally odious to them was necessary to the state. Conde and Turenne were no more; and Luxemburg was without dispute the first soldier that France still possessed. In vigilance, diligence and perseverance he was deficient. He seemed to reserve his great qualities for great emergencies. It was on a pitched field of battle that he was all himself. His glance was rapid and unerring. His judgment was clearest and surest when responsibility pressed heaviest on him and when difficulties gathered thickest around him. To his skill, energy and presence of mind his country owed some glorious days. But, though eminently successful in battles, he was not eminently successful in campaigns. He gained immense renown at William's expense; and yet there was, as respected the objects of the war, little to choose between the two commanders. Luxemburg was repeatedly victorious; but he had not the art of improving a victory. William was repeatedly defeated; but of all generals he was the best qualified to repair a defeat.
In the month of July William's headquarters were at Lambeque. About six miles off, at Steinkirk, Luxemburg had encamped with the main body of his army; and about six miles further off lay a considerable force commanded by the Marquess of Boufflers, one of the best officers in the service of Lewis.
The country between Lambeque and Steinkirk was intersected by innumerable hedges and ditches; and neither army could approach the other without passing through several long and narrow defiles. Luxemburg had therefore little reason to apprehend that he should be attacked in his entrenchments; and he felt assured that he should have ample notice before any attack was made; for he had succeeded in corrupting an adventurer named Millevoix, who was chief musician and private secretary of the Elector of Bavaria. This man regularly sent to the French headquarters authentic information touching the designs of the allies.
The Marshal, confident in the strength of his position and in the accuracy of his intelligence, lived in his tent as he was accustomed to live in his hotel at Paris. He was at once a valetudinarian and a voluptuary; and, in both characters, he loved his ease. He scarcely ever mounted his horse. Light conversation and cards occupied most of his hours. His table was luxurious; and, when he had sate down to supper, it was a service of danger to disturb him. Some scoffers remarked that in his military dispositions he was not guided exclusively by military reasons, that he generally contrived to entrench himself in some place where the veal and the poultry were remarkably good, and that he was always solicitous to keep open such communications with the sea as might ensure him, from September to April, a regular supply of Sandwich oysters.
If there were any agreeable women in the neighbourhood of his camp, they were generally to be found at his banquets. It may easily be supposed that, under such a commander, the young princes and nobles of France vied with one another in splendour and gallantry.
While he was amusing himself after his wonted fashion, the confederate princes discovered that their counsels were betrayed. A peasant picked up a letter which had been dropped, and carried it to the Elector of Bavaria. It contained full proofs of the guilt of Millevoix. William conceived a hope that he might be able to take his enemies in the snare which they had laid for him. The perfidious secretary was summoned to the royal presence and taxed with his crime. A pen was put into his hand; a pistol was held to his breast; and he was commanded to write on pain of instant death. His letter, dictated by William, was conveyed to the French camp. It apprised Luxemburg that the allies meant to send out a strong foraging party on the next day. In order to protect this party from molestation, some battalions of infantry, accompanied by artillery, would march by night to occupy the defiles which lay between the armies. The Marshal read, believed and went to rest, while William urged forward the preparations for a general assault on the French lines.
The whole allied army was under arms while it was still dark. In the grey of the morning Luxemburg was awakened by scouts, who brought tidings that the enemy was advancing in great force. He at first treated the news very lightly. His correspondent, it seemed, had been, as usual, diligent and exact. The Prince of Orange had sent out a detachment to protect his foragers, and this detachment had been magnified by fear into a great host. But one alarming report followed another fast. All the passes, it was said, were choked with multitudes of foot, horse and artillery, under the banners of England and of Spain, of the United Provinces and of the Empire; and every column was moving towards Steinkirk. At length the Marshal rose, got on horseback, and rode out to see what was doing.
By this time the vanguard of the allies was close to his outposts. About half a mile in advance of his army was encamped a brigade named from the province of Bourbonnais. These troops had to bear the first brunt of the onset. Amazed and panicstricken, they were swept away in a moment, and ran for their lives, leaving their tents and seven pieces of cannon to the assailants.
Thus far William's plans had been completely successful : but now fortune began to turn against him. He had been misinformed as to the nature of the ground which lay between the station of the brigade of Bourbonnais and the main encampment of the enemy. He had expected that he should be able to push forward without a moment's pause, that he should find the French army in a state of wild disorder, and that his victory would be easy and complete. But his progress was obstructed by several fences and ditches; there was a short delay; and a short delay sufficed to frustrate his design. Luxemburg was the very man for such a conjuncture. He had committed great faults; he had kept careless guard; he had trusted implicitly to information which had proved false; he had neglected information which had proved true; one of his divisions was flying in confusion; the other divisions were unprepared for action. That crisis would have paralysed the faculties of an ordinary captain; it only braced and stimulated those of Luxemburg. His mind, nay his sickly and distorted body, seemed to derive health and vigour from disaster and dismay. In a short time he had disposed every thing. The French army was in battle order. Conspicuous in that great array were the household troops of Lewis, the most renowned body of fighting men in Europe; and at their head appeared, glittering in lace and embroidery hastily thrown on and half fastened, a crowd of young princes and lords who had just been roused by the trumpet from their couches or their revels, and who had hastened to look death in the face with the gay and festive intrepidity characteristic of French gentlemen. Highest in rank among these highborn warriors was a lad of sixteen, Philip Duke of Chartres, son of the Duke of Orleans, and nephew of the King of France. It was with difficulty and by importunate solicitation that the gallant boy had extorted Luxemburg's permission to be where the fire was hottest. Two other youths of royal blood, Lewis Duke of Bourbon, and Armand Prince of Conti, showed a spirit worthy of their descent. With them was a descendant of one of the bastards of Henry the Fourth, Lewis Duke of Vendome, a man sunk in indolence and in the foulest vice, yet capable of exhibiting on a great occasion the qualities of a great soldier. Berwick, who was beginning to earn for himself an honourable name in arms, was there; and at his side rode Sarsfield, whose courage and ability earned, on that day, the esteem of the whole French army. Meanwhile Luxemburg had sent off a pressing message to summon Boufflers. But the message was needless. Boufflers had heard the firing, and, like a brave and intelligent captain, was already hastening towards the point from which the sound came.
Though the assailants had lost all the advantage which belongs to a surprise, they came on manfully. In the front of the battle were the British commanded by Count Solmes. The division which was to lead the way was Mackay's. He was to have been supported, according to William's plan, by a strong body of foot and horse. Though most of Mackay's men had never before been under fire, their behaviour gave promise of Blenheim and Ramilies. They first encountered the Swiss, who held a distinguished place in the French army. The fight was so close and desperate that the muzzles of the muskets crossed. The Swiss were driven back with fearful slaughter. More than eighteen hundred of them appear from the French returns to have been killed or wounded. Luxemburg afterwards said that he had never in his life seen so furious a struggle. He collected in haste the opinion of the generals who surrounded him. All thought that the emergency was one which could be met by no common means. The King's household must charge the English. The Marshal gave the word; and the household, headed by the princes of the blood, came on, flinging their muskets back on their shoulders. "Sword in hand," was the cry through all the ranks of that terrible brigade: "sword in hand. No firing. Do it with the cold steel." After a long and desperate resistance the English were borne down. They never ceased to repeat that, if Solmes had done his duty by them, they would have beaten even the household. But Solmes gave them no effective support. He pushed forward some cavalry which, from the nature of the ground, could do little or nothing. His infantry he would not suffer to stir. They could do no good, he said, and he would not send them to be slaughtered. Ormond was eager to hasten to the assistance of his countrymen, but was not permitted. Mackay sent a pressing message to represent that he and his men were left to certain destruction; but all was vain. "God's will be done," said the brave veteran. He died as he had lived, like a good Christian and a good soldier. With him fell Douglas and Lanier, two generals distinguished among the conquerors of Ireland. Mountjoy too was among the slain. After languishing three years in the Bastile, he had just been exchanged for Richard Hamilton, and, having been converted to Whiggism by wrongs more powerful than all the arguments of Locke and Sidney, had instantly hastened to join William's camp as a volunteer. Five fine regiments were entirely cut to pieces. No part of this devoted band would have escaped but for the courage and conduct of Auverquerque, who came to the rescue in the moment of extremity with two fresh battalions. The gallant manner in which he brought off the remains of Mackay's division was long remembered with grateful admiration by the British camp fires. The ground where the conflict had raged was piled with corpses; and those who buried the slain remarked that almost all the wounds had been given in close fighting by the sword or the bayonet.
It was said that William so far forgot his wonted stoicism as to utter a passionate exclamation at the way in which the English regiments had been sacrificed. Soon, however, he recovered his equanimity, and determined to fall back. It was high time; for the French army was every moment becoming stronger, as the regiments commanded by Boufflers came up in rapid succession. The allied army returned to Lambeque unpursued and in unbroken order.
The French owned that they had about seven thousand men killed and wounded. The loss of the allies had been little, if at all, greater. The relative strength of the armies was what it had been on the preceding day; and they continued to occupy their old positions. But the moral effect of the battle was great. The splendour of William's fame grew pale. Even his admirers were forced to own that, in the field, he was not a match for Luxemburg. In France the news was received with transports of joy and pride. The Court, the Capital, even the peasantry of the remotest provinces, gloried in the impetuous valour which had been displayed by so many youths, the heirs of illustrious names. It was exultingly and fondly repeated all over the kingdom that the young Duke of Chartres could not by any remonstrances be kept out of danger, that a ball had passed through his coat, that he had been wounded in the shoulder. The people lined the roads to see the princes and nobles who returned from Steinkirk. The jewellers devised Steinkirk buckles; the perfumers sold Steinkirk powder. But the name of the field of battle was peculiarly given to a new species of collar. Lace neckcloths were then worn by men of fashion; and it had been usual to arrange them with great care. But at the terrible moment when the brigade of Bourbonnais was flying before the onset of the allies, there was no time for foppery; and the finest gentlemen of the Court came spurring to the front of the line of battle with their rich cravats in disorder. It therefore became a fashion among the beauties of Paris to wear round their necks kerchiefs of the finest lace studiously disarranged; and these kerchiefs were called Steinkirks.
In the camp of the allies all was disunion and discontent. National jealousies and animosities raged without restraint or disguise. The resentment of the English was loudly expressed. Solmes, though he was said by those who knew him well to have some valuable qualities, was not a man likely to conciliate soldiers who were prejudiced against him as a foreigner. His demeanour was arrogant, his temper ungovernable. Even before the unfortunate day of Steinkirk the English officers did not willingly communicate with him, and the private men murmured at his harshness. But after the battle the outcry against him became furious. He was accused, perhaps unjustly, of having said with unfeeling levity, while the English regiments were contending desperately against great odds, that he was curious to see how the bulldogs would come off. Would any body, it was asked, now pretend that it was on account of his superior skill and experience that he had been put over the heads of so many English officers? It was the fashion to say that those officers had never seen war on a large scale. But surely the merest novice was competent to do all that Solmes had done, to misunderstand orders, to send cavalry on duty which none but infantry could perform, and to look on at safe distance while brave men were cut to pieces. It was too much to be at once insulted and sacrificed, excluded from the honours of war, yet pushed on all its extreme dangers, sneered at as raw recruits, and then left to cope unsupported with the finest body of veterans in the world. Such were the complains of the English army; and they were echoed by the English nation.
Fortunately about this time a discovery was made which furnished both the camp at Lambeque and the coffeehouses of London with a subject of conversation much less agreeable to the Jacobites than the disaster of Steinkirk.
A plot against the life of William had been, during some months, maturing in the French War Office. It should seem that Louvois had originally sketched the design, and had bequeathed it, still rude, to his son and successor Barbesieux. By Barbesieux the plan was perfected. The execution was entrusted to an officer named Grandval. Grandval was undoubtedly brave, and full of zeal for his country and his religion. He was indeed flighty and half witted, but not on that account the less dangerous. Indeed a flighty and half witted man is the very instrument generally preferred by cunning politicians when very hazardous work is to be done. No shrewd calculator would, for any bribe, however enormous, have exposed himself to the fate of Chatel, of Ravaillac, or of Gerarts.
Grandval secured, as he conceived, the assistance of two adventurers, Dumont, a Walloon, and Leefdale, a Dutchman. In April, soon after William had arrived in the Low Countries, the murderers were directed to repair to their post. Dumont was then in Westphalia. Grandval and Leefdale were at Paris. Uden in North Brabant was fixed as the place where the three were to meet and whence they were to proceed together to the headquarters of the allies. Before Grandval left Paris he paid a visit to Saint Germains, and was presented to James and to Mary of Modena. "I have been informed," said James, "of the business. If you and your companions do me this service, you shall never want."
After this audience Grandval set out on his journey. He had not the faintest suspicion that he had been betrayed both by the accomplice who accompanied him and by the accomplice whom he was going to meet. Dumont and Leefdale were not enthusiasts. They cared nothing for the restoration of James, the grandeur of Lewis, or the ascendency of the Church of Rome. It was plain to every man of common sense that, whether the design succeeded or failed, the reward of the assassins would probably be to be disowned, with affected abhorrence, by the Courts of Versailles and Saint Germains, and to be torn with redhot pincers, smeared with melted lead, and dismembered by four horses. To vulgar natures the prospect of such a martyrdom was not alluring. Both these men, therefore, had, almost at the same time, though, as far as appears, without any concert, conveyed to William, through different channels, warnings that his life was in danger. Dumont had acknowledged every thing to the Duke of Zell, one of the confederate princes. Leefdale had transmitted full intelligence through his relations who resided in Holland. Meanwhile Morel, a Swiss Protestant of great learning who was then in France, wrote to inform Burnet that the weak and hotheaded Grandval had been heard to talk boastfully of the event which would soon astonish the world, and had confidently predicted that the Prince of Orange would not live to the end of the next month.
These cautions were not neglected. From the moment at which Grandval entered the Netherlands, his steps were among snares. His movements were watched; his words were noted; he was arrested, examined, confronted with his accomplices, and sent to the camp of the allies. About a week after the battle of Steinkirk he was brought before a Court Martial. Ginkell, who had been rewarded for his great services in Ireland with the title of Earl of Athlone, presided; and Talmash was among the judges. Mackay and Lanier had been named members of the board; but they were no more; and their places were filled by younger officers.
The duty of the Court Martial was very simple; for the prisoner attempted no defence. His conscience had, it should seem, been suddenly awakened. He admitted, with expressions of remorse, the truth of all the charges, made a minute, and apparently an ingenuous, confession, and owned that he had deserved death. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, and underwent his punishment with great fortitude and with a show of piety. He left behind him a few lines, in which he declared that he was about to lose his life for having too faithfully obeyed the injunctions of Barbesieux.
His confession was immediately published in several languages, and was read with very various and very strong emotions. That it was genuine could not be doubted; for it was warranted by the signatures of some of the most distinguished military men living. That it was prompted by the hope of pardon could hardly be supposed; for William had taken pains to discourage that hope. Still less could it be supposed that the prisoner had uttered untruths in order to avoid the torture. For, though it was the universal practice in the Netherlands to put convicted assassins to the rack in order to wring out from them the names of their employers and associates, William had given orders that, on this occasion, the rack should not be used or even named. It should be added, that the Court did not interrogate the prisoner closely, but suffered him to tell his story in his own way. It is therefore reasonable to believe that his narrative is substantially true; and no part of it has a stronger air of truth than his account of the audience with which James had honoured him at Saint Germains.
In our island the sensation produced by the news was great. The Whigs loudly called both James and Lewis assassins. How, it was asked, was it possible, without outraging common sense, to put an innocent meaning on the words which Grandval declared that he had heard from the lips of the banished King of England? And who that knew the Court of Versailles would believe that Barbesieux, a youth, a mere novice in politics, and rather a clerk than a minister, would have dared to do what he had done without taking his master's pleasure? Very charitable and very ignorant persons might perhaps indulge a hope that Lewis had not been an accessory before the fact. But that he was an accessory after the fact no human being could doubt. He must have seen the proceedings of the Court Martial, the evidence, the confession. If he really abhorred assassination as honest men abhor it, would not Barbesieux have been driven with ignominy from the royal presence, and flung into the Bastile? Yet Barbesieux was still at the War Office; and it was not pretended that he had been punished even by a word or a frown. It was plain, then, that both Kings were partakers in the guilt of Grandval. And if it were asked how two princes who made a high profession of religion could have fallen into such wickedness, the answer was that they had learned their religion from the Jesuits. In reply to these reproaches the English Jacobites said very little; and the French government said nothing at all.
The campaign in the Netherlands ended without any other event deserving to be recorded. On the eighteenth of October William arrived in England. Late in the evening of the twentieth he reached Kensington, having traversed the whole length of the capital. His reception was cordial. The crowd was great; the acclamations were loud; and all the windows along his route, from Aldgate to Piccadilly, were lighted up.
But, notwithstanding these favourable symptoms, the nation was disappointed and discontented. The war had been unsuccessful by land. By sea a great advantage had been gained, but had not been improved. The general expectation had been that the victory of May would be followed by a descent on the coast of France, that Saint Maloes would he bombarded, that the last remains of Tourville's squadron would be destroyed, and that the arsenals of Brest and Rochefort would be laid in ruins. This expectation was, no doubt, unreasonable. It did not follow, because Rooke and his seamen had silenced the batteries hastily thrown up by Bellefonds, that it would be safe to expose ships to the fire of regular fortresses. The government, however, was not less sanguine than the nation. Great preparations were made. The allied fleet, having been speedily refitted at Portsmouth, stood out again to sea. Rooke was sent to examine the soundings and the currents along the shore of Brittany. Transports were collected at Saint Helens. Fourteen thousand troops were assembled on Portsdown under the command of Meinhart Schomberg, who had been rewarded for his father's services and his own with the highest rank in the Irish peerage, and was now Duke of Leinster. Under him were Ruvigny, who, for his good service at Aghrim, had been created Earl of Galway, La Melloniere and Cambon with their gallant bands of refugees, and Argyle with the regiment which bore his name, and which, as it began to be rumoured, had last winter done something strange and horrible in a wild country of rocks and snow, never yet explored by any Englishman.
On the twenty-sixth of July the troops were all on board. The transports sailed, and in a few hours joined the naval armament in the neighbourhood of Portland. On the twenty-eighth a general council of war was held. All the naval commanders, with Russell at their head, declared that it would be madness to carry their ships within the range of the guns of Saint Maloes, and that the town must be reduced to straits by land before the men of war in the harbour could, with any chance of success, be attacked from the sea. The military men declared with equal unanimity that the land forces could effect nothing against the town without the cooperation of the fleet. It was then considered whether it would be advisable to make an attempt on Brest or Rochefort. Russell and the other flag officers, among whom were Rooke, Shovel, Almonde and Evertsen, pronounced that the summer was too far spent for either enterprise. We must suppose that an opinion in which so many distinguished admirals, both English and Dutch, concurred, however strange it may seem to us, was in conformity with what were then the established principles of the art of maritime war. But why all these questions could not have been fully discussed a week earlier, why fourteen thousand troops should have been shipped and sent to sea, before it had been considered what they were to do, or whether it would be possible for them to do any thing, we may reasonably wonder. The armament returned to Saint Helens, to the astonishment and disgust of the whole nation. The ministers blamed the commanders; the commanders blamed the ministers. The recriminations exchanged between Nottingham and Russell were loud and angry. Nottingham, honest, industrious, versed in civil business, and eloquent in parliamentary debate, was deficient in the qualities of a war minister, and was not at all aware of his deficiencies. Between him and the whole body of professional sailors there was a feud of long standing. He had, some time before the Revolution, been a Lord of the Admiralty; and his own opinion was that he had then acquired a profound knowledge of maritime affairs. This opinion however he had very much to himself. Men who had passed half their lives on the waves, and who had been in battles, storms and shipwrecks, were impatient of his somewhat pompous lectures and reprimands, and pronounced him a mere pedant, who, with all his book learning, was ignorant of what every cabin boy knew. Russell had always been froward, arrogant and mutinous; and now prosperity and glory brought out his vices in full strength. With the government which he had saved he took all the liberties of an insolent servant who believes himself to be necessary, treated the orders of his superiors with contemptuous levity, resented reproof, however gentle, as an outrage, furnished no plan of his own, and showed a sullen determination to execute no plan furnished by any body else. To Nottingham he had a strong and a very natural antipathy. They were indeed an ill matched pair. Nottingham was a Tory; Russell was a Whig. Nottingham was a speculative seaman, confident in his theories. Russell was a practical seaman, proud of his achievements. The strength of Nottingham lay in speech; the strength of Russell lay in action. Nottingham's demeanour was decorous even to formality; Russell was passionate and rude. Lastly Nottingham was an honest man; and Russell was a villain. They now became mortal enemies. The Admiral sneered at the Secretary's ignorance of naval affairs; the Secretary accused the Admiral of sacrificing the public interests to mere wayward humour; and both were in the right.
While they were wrangling, the merchants of all the ports in the kingdom raised a cry against the naval administration. The victory of which the nation was so proud was, in the City, pronounced to have been a positive disaster. During some months before the battle all the maritime strength of the enemy had been collected in two great masses, one in the Mediterranean and one in the Atlantic. There had consequently been little privateering; and the voyage to New England or Jamaica had been almost as safe as in time of peace. Since the battle, the remains of the force which had lately been collected under Tourville were dispersed over the ocean. Even the passage from England to Ireland was insecure. Every week it was announced that twenty, thirty, fifty vessels belonging to London or Bristol had been taken by the French. More than a hundred prices were carried during that autumn into Saint Maloes alone. It would have been far better, in the opinion of the shipowners and of the underwriters, that the Royal Sun had still been afloat with her thousand fighting men on board than that she should be lying a heap of ashes on the beach at Cherburg, while her crew, distributed among twenty brigantines, prowled for booty over the sea between Cape Finisterre and Cape Clear.
The privateers of Dunkirk had long been celebrated; and among them, John Bart, humbly born, and scarcely able to sign his name, but eminently brave and active, had attained an undisputed preeminence. In the country of Anson and Hawke, of Howe and Rodney, of Duncan, Saint Vincent and Nelson, the name of the most daring and skilful corsair would have little chance of being remembered. But France, among whose many unquestioned titles to glory very few are derived from naval war, still ranks Bart among her great men. In the autumn of 1692 this enterprising freebooter was the terror of all the English and Dutch merchants who traded with the Baltic. He took and destroyed vessels close to the eastern coast of our island. He even ventured to land in Northumberland, and burned many houses before the trainbands could be collected to oppose him. The prizes which he carried back into his native port were estimated at about a hundred thousand pounds sterling. About the same time a younger adventurer, destined to equal or surpass Bart, Du Guay Trouin, was entrusted with the command of a small armed vessel. The intrepid boy,--for he was not yet twenty years old,--entered the estuary of the Shannon, sacked a mansion in the county of Clare, and did not reimbark till a detachment from the garrison of Limerick marched against him.
While our trade was interrupted and our shores menaced by these rovers, some calamities which no human prudence could have averted increased the public ill humour. An earthquake of terrible violence laid waste in less than three minutes the flourishing colony of Jamaica. Whole plantations changed their place. Whole villages were swallowed up. Port Royal, the fairest and wealthiest city which the English had yet built in the New World, renowned for its quays, for its warehouses, and for its stately streets, which were said to rival Cheapside, was turned into a mass of ruins. Fifteen hundred of the inhabitants were buried under their own dwellings. The effect of this disaster was severely felt by many of the great mercantile houses of London and Bristol.
A still heavier calamity was the failure of the harvest. The summer had been wet all over Western Europe. Those heavy rains which had impeded the exertions of the French pioneers in the trenches of Namur had been fatal to the crops. Old men remembered no such year since 1648. No fruit ripened. The price of the quarter of wheat doubled. The evil was aggravated by the state of the silver coin, which had been clipped to such an extent that the words pound and shilling had ceased to have a fixed meaning. Compared with France indeed England might well be esteemed prosperous. Here the public burdens were heavy; there they were crushing. Here the labouring man was forced to husband his coarse barley loaf; but there it not seldom happened that the wretched peasant was found dead on the earth with halfchewed grass in his mouth. Our ancestors found some consolation in thinking that they were gradually wearing out the strength of their formidable enemy, and that his resources were likely to be drained sooner than theirs. Still there was much suffering and much repining. In some counties mobs attacked the granaries. The necessity of retrenchment was felt by families of every rank. An idle man of wit and pleasure, who little thought that his buffoonery would ever be cited to illustrate the history of his times, complained that, in this year, wine ceased to be put on many hospitable tables where he had been accustomed to see it, and that its place was supplied by punch.
A symptom of public distress much more alarming than the substitution of brandy and lemons for claret was the increase of crime. During the autumn of 1692 and the following winter, the capital was kept in constant terror by housebreakers. One gang, thirteen strong, entered the mansion of the Duke of Ormond in Saint James's Square, and all but succeeded in carrying off his magnificent plate and jewels. Another gang made an attempt on Lambeth Palace. When stately abodes, guarded by numerous servants, were in such danger, it may easily be believed that no shopkeeper's till or stock could be safe. From Bow to Hyde Park, from Thames Street to Bloomsbury, there was no parish in which some quiet dwelling had not been sacked by burglars. Meanwhile the great roads were made almost impassable by freebooters who formed themselves into troops larger than had before been known. There was a sworn fraternity of twenty footpads which met at an alehouse in Southwark. But the most formidable band of plunderers consisted of two and twenty horsemen. It should seem that, at this time, a journey of fifty miles through the wealthiest and most populous shires of England was as dangerous as a pilgrimage across the deserts of Arabia. The Oxford stage coach was pillaged in broad day after a bloody fight. A waggon laden with fifteen thousand pounds of public money was stopped and ransacked. As this operation took some time, all the travellers who came to the spot while the thieves were busy were seized and guarded. When the booty had been secured the prisoners were suffered to depart on foot; but their horses, sixteen or eighteen in number, were shot or hamstringed, to prevent pursuit. The Portsmouth mail was robbed twice in one week by men well armed and mounted. Some jovial Essex squires, while riding after a hare, were themselves chased and run down by nine hunters of a different sort, and were heartily glad to find themselves at home again, though with empty pockets.
The friends of the government asserted that the marauders were all Jacobites; and indeed there were some appearances which gave colour to the assertion. For example, fifteen butchers, going on a market day to buy beasts at Thame, were stopped by a large gang, and compelled first to deliver their moneybags, and then to drink King James's health in brandy. The thieves, however, to do them justice, showed, in the exercise of their calling, no decided preference for any political party. Some of them fell in with Marlborough near Saint Albans, and, notwithstanding his known hostility to the Court and his recent imprisonment, compelled him to deliver up five hundred guineas, which he doubtless never ceased to regret to the last moment of his long career of prosperity and glory.
When William, on his return from the Continent, learned to what an extent these outrages were carried, he expressed great indignation, and announced his resolution to put down the malefactors with a strong hand. A veteran robber was induced to turn informer, and to lay before the King a list of the chief highwaymen, and a full account of their habits and of their favourite haunts. It was said that this list contained not less than eighty names. Strong parties of cavalry were sent out to protect the roads; and this precaution, which would, in ordinary circumstances, have excited much murmuring, seems to have been generally approved. A fine regiment, now called the Second Dragoon Guards, which had distinguished itself in Ireland by activity and success in the irregular war against the Rapparees, was selected to guard several of the great avenues of the capital. Blackheath, Barnet, Hounslow, became places of arms. In a few weeks the roads were as safe as usual. The executions were numerous: for, till the evil had been suppressed, the King resolutely refused to listen to any solicitations for mercy. Among those who suffered was James Whitney, the most celebrated captain of banditti in the kingdom. He had been, during some months, the terror of all who travelled from London either northward or westward, and was at length with difficulty secured after a desperate conflict in which one soldier was killed and several wounded. The London Gazette announced that the famous highwayman had been taken, and invited all persons who had been robbed by him to repair to Newgate and to see whether they could identify him. To identify him should have been easy; for he had a wound in the face, and had lost a thumb. He, however, in the hope of perplexing the witnesses for the Crown, expended a hundred pounds in procuring a sumptuous embroidered suit against the day of trial. This ingenious device was frustrated by his hardhearted keepers. He was put to the bar in his ordinary clothes, convicted and sentenced to death. He had previously tried to ransom himself by offering to raise a fine troop of cavalry, all highwaymen, for service in Flanders; but his offer had been rejected. He had one resource still left. He declared that he was privy to a treasonable plot. Some Jacobite lords had promised him immense rewards if he would, at the head of his gang, fall upon the King at a stag hunt in Windsor Forest. There was nothing intrinsically improbable in Whitney's story. Indeed a design very similar to that which he imputed to the malecontents was, only three years later, actually formed by some of them, and was all but carried into execution. But it was far better that a few bad men should go unpunished than that all honest men should live in fear of being falsely accused by felons sentenced to the gallows. Chief Justice Holt advised the King to let the law take its course. William, never much inclined to give credit to stories about conspiracies, assented. The Captain, as he was called, was hanged in Smithfield, and made a most penitent end.
Meanwhile, in the midst of discontent, distress and disorder, had begun a session of Parliament singularly eventful, a session from which dates a new era in the history of English finance, a session in which some grave constitutional questions, not yet entirely set at rest, were for the first time debated.
It is much to be lamented that any account of this session which can be framed out of the scanty and dispersed materials now accessible must leave many things obscure. The relations of the parliamentary factions were, during this year, in a singularly complicated state. Each of the two Houses was divided and subdivided by several lines. To omit minor distinctions, there was the great line which separated the Whig party from the Tory party; and there was the great line which separated the official men and their friends and dependents, who were sometimes called the Court party, from those who were sometimes nicknamed the Grumbletonians and sometimes honoured with the appellation of the Country party. And these two great lines were intersecting lines. For of the servants of the Crown and of their adherents about one half were Whigs and one half Tories. It is also to be remembered that there was, quite distinct from the feud between Whigs and Tories, quite distinct also from the feud between those who were in and those who were out, a feud between the Lords as Lords and the Commons as Commons. The spirit both of the hereditary and of the elective chamber had been thoroughly roused in the preceding session by the dispute about the Court of the Lord High Steward; and they met in a pugnacious mood.
The speech which the King made at the opening of the session was skilfully framed for the purpose of conciliating the Houses. He came, he told them, to ask for their advice and assistance. He congratulated them on the victory of La Hogue. He acknowledged with much concern that the operations of the allies had been less successful by land than by sea; but he warmly declared that, both by land and by sea, the valour of his English subjects had been preeminently conspicuous. The distress of his people, he said, was his own; his interest was inseparable from theirs; it was painful to him to call on them to make sacrifices; but from sacrifices which were necessary to the safety of the English nation and of the Protestant religion no good Englishman and no good Protestant would shrink.
The Commons thanked the King in cordial terms for his gracious speech. But the Lords were in a bad humour. Two of their body, Marlborough and Huntingdon, had, during the recess, when an invasion and an insurrection were hourly expected, been sent to the Tower, and were still under recognisances. Had a country gentleman or a merchant been taken up and held to bail on even slighter grounds at so alarming a crisis, the Lords would assuredly not have interfered. But they were easily moved to anger by any thing that looked like an indignity offered to their own order. They not only crossexamined with great severity Aaron Smith, the Solicitor of the Treasury, whose character, to say the truth, entitled him to little indulgence, but passed; by thirty- five votes to twenty-eight, a resolution implying a censure on the judges of the King's Bench, men certainly not inferior in probity, and very far superior in legal learning, to any peer of the realm. The King thought it prudent to soothe the wounded pride of the nobility by ordering the recognisances to be cancelled; and with this concession the House was satisfied, to the great vexation of the Jacobites, who had hoped that the quarrel would be prosecuted to some fatal issue, and who, finding themselves disappointed, vented their spleen by railing at the tameness of the degenerate barons of England.
Both Houses held long and earnest deliberations on the state of the nation. The King, when he requested their advice, had, perhaps, not foreseen that his words would be construed into an invitation to scrutinise every part of the administration, and to offer suggestions touching matters which parliaments have generally thought it expedient to leave entirely to the Crown. Some of the discontented peers proposed that a Committee, chosen partly by the Lords and partly by the Commons, should be authorised to inquire into the whole management of public affairs. But it was generally apprehended that such a Committee would become a second and more powerful Privy Council, independent of the Crown, and unknown to the Constitution. The motion was therefore rejected by forty-eight votes to thirty-six. On this occasion the ministers, with scarcely an exception, voted in the majority. A protest was signed by eighteen of the minority, among whom were the bitterest Whigs and the bitterest Tories in the whole peerage.
The Houses inquired, each for itself, into the causes of the public calamities. The Commons resolved themselves into a Grand Committee to consider of the advice to be given to the King. From the concise abstracts and fragments which have come down to us it seems that, in this Committee, which continued to sit many days, the debates wandered over a vast space. One member spoke of the prevalence of highway robbery; another deplored the quarrel between the Queen and the Princess, and proposed that two or three gentlemen should be deputed to wait on Her Majesty and try to make matters up. A third described the machinations of the Jacobites in the preceding spring. It was notorious, he said, that preparations had been made for a rising, and that arms and horses had been collected; yet not a single traitor had been brought to justice.
The events of the war by land and sea furnished matter for several earnest debates. Many members complained of the preference given to aliens over Englishmen. The whole battle of Steinkirk was fought over again; and severe reflections were thrown on Solmes. "Let English soldiers be commanded by none but English generals," was the almost universal cry. Seymour, who had once been distinguished by his hatred of the foreigners, but who, since he had been at the Board of Treasury, had reconsidered his opinions, asked where English generals were to be found. "I have no love for foreigners as foreigners; but we have no choice. Men are not born generals; nay, a man may be a very valuable captain or major, and not be equal to the conduct of an army. Nothing but experience will form great commanders. Very few of our countrymen have that experience; and therefore we must for the present employ strangers." Lowther followed on the same side. "We have had a long peace; and the consequence is that we have not a sufficient supply of officers fit for high commands. The parks and the camp at Hounslow were very poor military schools, when compared with the fields of battle and the lines of contravallation in which the great commanders of the continental nations have learned their art." In reply to these arguments an orator on the other side was so absurd as to declare that he could point out ten Englishmen who, if they were in the French service, would be made Marshals. Four or five colonels who had been at Steinkirk took part in the debate. It was said of them that they showed as much modesty in speech as they had shown courage in action; and, from the very imperfect report which has come down to us, the compliment seems to have been not undeserved. They did not join in the vulgar cry against the Dutch. They spoke well of the foreign officers generally, and did full justice to the valour and conduct with which Auverquerque had rescued the shattered remains of Mackay's division from what seemed certain destruction. But in defence of Solmes not a word was said. His severity, his haughty manners, and, above all, the indifference with which he had looked on while the English, borne down by overwhelming numbers, were fighting hand to hand with the French household troops, had made him so odious that many members were prepared to vote for an address requesting that he might be removed, and that his place might be filled by Talmash, who, since the disgrace of Marlborough, was universally allowed to be the best officer in the army. But Talmash's friends judiciously interfered. "I have," said one of them, "a true regard for that gentleman; and I implore you not to do him an injury under the notion of doing him a kindness. Consider that you are usurping what is peculiarly the King's prerogative. You are turning officers out and putting officers in." The debate ended without any vote of censure on Solmes. But a hope was expressed, in language not very parliamentary, that what had been said in the Committee would be reported to the King, and that His Majesty would not disregard the general wish of the representatives of his people.
The Commons next proceeded to inquire into the naval administration, and very soon came to a quarrel with the Lords on that subject. That there had been mismanagement somewhere was but too evident. It was hardly possible to acquit both Russell and Nottingham; and each House stood by its own member. The Commons had, at the opening of the session, unanimously passed a vote of thanks to Russell for his conduct at La Hogue. They now, in the Grand Committee of Advice, took into consideration the miscarriages which had followed the battle. A motion was made so vaguely worded that it could hardly be said to mean any thing. It was understood however to imply a censure on Nottingham, and was therefore strongly opposed by his friends. On the division the Ayes were a hundred and sixty-five, the Noes a hundred and sixty- four.
On the very next day Nottingham appealed to the Lords. He told his story with all the skill of a practised orator, and with all the authority which belongs to unblemished integrity. He then laid on the table a great mass of papers, which he requested the House to read and consider. The Peers seem to have examined the papers seriously and diligently. The result of the examination was by no means favourable to Russell. Yet it was thought unjust to condemn him unheard; and it was difficult to devise any way in which their Lordships could hear him. At last it was resolved to send the papers down to the Commons with a message which imported that, in the opinion of the Upper House, there was a case against the Admiral which he ought to be called upon to answer. With the papers was sent an abstract of the contents.
The message was not very respectfully received. Russell had, at that moment, a popularity which he little deserved, but which will not surprise us when we remember that the public knew nothing of his treasons, and knew that he was the only living Englishman who had won a great battle. The abstract of the papers was read by the clerk. Russell then spoke with great applause; and his friends pressed for an immediate decision. Sir Christopher Musgrave very justly observed that it was impossible to pronounce judgment on such a pile of despatches without perusing them; but this objection was overruled. The Whigs regarded the accused member as one of themselves; many of the Tories were dazzled by the splendour of his recent victory; and neither Whigs nor Tories were disposed to show any deference for the authority of the Peers. The House, without reading the papers, passed an unanimous resolution expressing warm approbation of Russell's whole conduct. The temper of the assembly was such that some ardent Whigs thought that they might now venture to propose a vote of censure on Nottingham by name. But the attempt failed. "I am ready," said Lowther,--and he doubtless expressed what many felt,--"I am ready to support any motion that may do honour to the Admiral; but I cannot join in an attack on the Secretary of State. For, to my knowledge, their Majesties have no more zealous, laborious or faithful servant than my Lord Nottingham." Finch exerted all his mellifluous eloquence in defence of his brother, and contrived, without directly opposing himself to the prevailing sentiment, to insinuate that Russell's conduct had not been faultless. The vote of censure on Nottingham was not pressed. The vote which pronounced Russell's conduct to have been deserving of all praise was communicated to the Lords; and the papers which they had sent down were very unceremoniously returned. The Lords, much offended, demanded a free conference. It was granted; and the managers of the two Houses met in the Painted Chamber. Rochester, in the name of his brethren, expressed a wish to be informed of the grounds on which the Admiral had been declared faultless. To this appeal the gentlemen who stood on the other side of the table answered only that they had not been authorised to give any explanation, but that they would report to those who had sent them what had been said.
By this time the Commons were thoroughly tired of the inquiry into the conduct of the war. The members had got rid of much of the ill humour which they had brought up with them from their country seats by the simple process of talking it away. Burnet hints that those arts of which Caermarthen and Trevor were the great masters were employed for the purpose of averting votes which would have seriously embarrassed the government. But, though it is not improbable that a few noisy pretenders to patriotism may have been quieted with bags of guineas, it would be absurd to suppose that the House generally was influenced in this manner. Whoever has seen anything of such assemblies knows that the spirit with which they enter on long inquiries very soon flags, and that their resentment, if not kept alive by injudicious opposition, cools fast. In a short time every body was sick of the Grand Committee of Advice. The debates had been tedious and desultory. The resolutions which had been carried were for the most part merely childish. The King was to be humbly advised to employ men of ability and integrity. He was to be humbly advised to employ men who would stand by him against James. The patience of the House was wearied out by long discussions ending in the pompous promulgation of truisms like these. At last the explosion came. One of the grumblers called the attention of the Grand Committee to the alarming fact that two Dutchmen were employed in the Ordnance department, and moved that the King should be humbly advised to dismiss them. The motion was received with disdainful mockery. It was remarked that the military men especially were loud in the expression of contempt. "Do we seriously think of going to the King and telling him that, as he has condescended to ask our advice at this momentous crisis, we humbly advise him to turn a Dutch storekeeper out of the Tower? Really, if we have no more important suggestion to carry up to the throne, we may as well go to our dinners." The members generally were of the same mind. The chairman was voted out of the chair, and was not directed to ask leave to sit again. The Grand Committee ceased to exist. The resolutions which it had passed were formally reported to the House. One of them was rejected; the others were suffered to drop; and the Commons, after considering during several weeks what advice they should give to the King, ended by giving him no advice at all.
The temper of the Lords was different. From many circumstances it appears that there was no place where the Dutch were, at this time, so much hated as in the Upper House. The dislike with which an Englishman of the middle class regarded the King's foreign friends was merely national. But the dislike with which an English nobleman regarded them was personal. They stood between him and Majesty. They intercepted from him the rays of royal favour. The preference given to them wounded him both in his interests and in his pride. His chance of the Garter was much smaller since they had become his competitors. He might have been Master of the Horse but for Auverquerque, Master of the Robes but for Zulestein, Groom of the Stole but for Bentinck. The ill humour of the aristocracy was inflamed by Marlborough, who, at this time, affected the character of a patriot persecuted for standing up against the Dutch in defence of the interests of his native land, and who did not foresee that a day would come when he would be accused of sacrificing the interests of his native land to gratify the Dutch. The Peers determined to present an address, requesting William not to place his English troops under the command of a foreign general. They took up very seriously that question which had moved the House of Commons to laughter, and solemnly counselled their Sovereign not to employ foreigners in his magazines. At Marlborough's suggestion they urged the King to insist that the youngest English general should take precedence of the oldest general in the service of the States General. It was, they said, derogatory to the dignity of the Crown, that an officer who held a commission from His Majesty should ever be commanded by an officer who held a similar commission from a republic. To this advice, evidently dictated by an ignoble malevolence to Holland, William, who troubled himself little about votes of the Upper House which were not backed by the Lower, returned, as might have been expected, a very short and dry answer.
While the inquiry into the conduct of the war was pending, the Commons resumed the consideration of an important subject which had occupied much of their attention in the preceding year. The Bill for the Regulation of Trials in cases of High Treason was again brought in, but was strongly opposed by the official men, both Whigs and Tories. Somers, now Attorney General, strongly recommended delay. That the law, as it stood, was open to grave objections, was not denied; but it was contended that the proposed reform would, at that moment, produce more harm than good. Nobody would assert that, under the existing government, the lives of innocent subjects were in any danger. Nobody would deny that the government itself was in great danger. Was it the part of wise men to increase the perils of that which was already in serious peril for the purpose of giving new security to that which was already perfectly secure? Those who held this language were twitted with their inconsistency, and asked why they had not ventured to oppose the bill in the preceding session. They answered very plausibly that the events which had taken place during the recess had taught an important lesson to all who were capable of learning. The country had been threatened at once with invasion and insurrection. No rational man doubted that many traitors had made preparations for joining the French, and had collected arms, ammunition and horses for that purpose. Yet, though there was abundant moral evidence against these enemies of their country, it had not been possible to find legal evidence against a single one of them. The law of treason might, in theory, be harsh, and had undoubtedly, in times past, been grossly abused. But a statesman who troubled himself less about theory than about practice, and less about times past than about the time present, would pronounce that law not too stringent but too lax, and would, while the commonwealth remained in extreme jeopardy, refuse to consent to any further relaxation. In spite of all opposition, however, the principle of the bill was approved by one hundred and seventy-one votes to one hundred and fifty-two. But in the committee it was moved and carried that the new rules of procedure should not come into operation till after the end of the war with France. When the report was brought up the House divided on this amendment, and ratified it by a hundred and forty-five votes to a hundred and twenty-five. The bill was consequently suffered to drop. Had it gone up to the Peers it would in all probability have been lost after causing another quarrel between the Houses. For the Peers were fully determined that no such bill should pass, unless it contained a clause altering the constitution of the Lord High Steward's Court; and a clause altering the constitution of the Lord High Steward's Court would have been less likely than ever to find favour with the Commons. For in the course of this session an event took place which proved that the great were only too well protected by the law as it stood, and which well deserves to be recorded as a striking illustration of the state of manners and morals in that age.
Of all the actors who were then on the English stage the most graceful was William Mountford. He had every physical qualification for his calling, a noble figure, a handsome face, a melodious voice. It was not easy to say whether he succeeded better in heroic or in ludicrous parts. He was allowed to be both the best Alexander and the best Sir Courtly Nice that ever trod the boards. Queen Mary, whose knowledge was very superficial, but who had naturally a quick perception of what was excellent in art, admired him greatly. He was a dramatist as well as a player, and has left us one comedy which is not contemptible.
The most popular actress of the time was Anne Bracegirdle. There were on the stage many women of more faultless beauty, but none whose features and deportment had such power to fascinate the senses and the hearts of men. The sight of her bright black eyes and of her rich brown cheek sufficed to put the most turbulent audience into good humour. It was said of her that in the crowded theatre she had as many lovers as she had male spectators. Yet no lover, however rich, however high in rank, had prevailed on her to be his mistress. Those who are acquainted with the parts which she was in the habit of playing, and with the epilogues which it was her especial business to recite, will not easily give her credit for any extraordinary measure of virtue or of delicacy. She seems to have been a cold, vain and interested coquette, who perfectly understood how much the influence of her charms was increased by the fame of a severity which cost her nothing, and who could venture to flirt with a succession of admirers in the just confidence that no flame which she might kindle in them would thaw her own ice. Among those who pursued her with an insane desire was a profligate captain in the army named Hill. With Hill was closely bound in a league of debauchery and violence Charles Lord Mohun, a young nobleman whose life was one long revel and brawl. Hill, finding that the beautiful brunette was invincible, took it into his head that he was rejected for a more favoured rival, and that this rival was the brilliant Mountford. The jealous lover swore over his wine at a tavern that he would stab the villain. "And I," said Mohun, "will stand by my friend." From the tavern the pair went, with some soldiers whose services Hill had secured, to Drury Lane where the lady resided. They lay some time in wait for her. As soon as she appeared in the street she was seized and hurried to a coach. She screamed for help; her mother clung round her; the whole neighbourhood rose; and she was rescued. Hill and Mohun went away vowing vengeance. They swaggered sword in hand during two hours about the streets near Mountford's dwelling. The watch requested them to put up their weapons. But when the young lord announced that he was a peer, and bade the constables touch him if they durst, they let him pass. So strong was privilege then; and so weak was law. Messengers were sent to warn Mountford of his danger; but unhappily they missed him. He came. A short altercation took place between him and Mohun; and, while they were wrangling, Hill ran the unfortunate actor through the body, and fled.
The grand jury of Middlesex, consisting of gentlemen of note, found a bill of murder against Hill and Mohun. Hill escaped. Mohun was taken. His mother threw herself at William's feet, but in vain. "It was a cruel act," said the King; "I shall leave it to the law." The trial came on in the Court of the Lord High Steward; and, as Parliament happened to be sitting, the culprit had the advantage of being judged by the whole body of the peerage. There was then no lawyer in the Upper House. It therefore became necessary, for the first time since Buckhurst had pronounced sentence on Essex and Southampton, that a peer who had never made jurisprudence his special study should preside over that grave tribunal. Caermarthen, who, as Lord President, took precedence of all the nobility, was appointed Lord High Steward. A full report of the proceedings has come down to us. No person, who carefully examines that report, and attends to the opinion unanimously given by the judges in answer to a question which Nottingham drew up, and in which the facts brought out by the evidence are stated with perfect fairness, can doubt that the crime of murder was fully brought home to the prisoner. Such was the opinion of the King who was present during the trial; and such was the almost unanimous opinion of the public. Had the issue been tried by Holt and twelve plain men at the Old Bailey, there can be no doubt that a verdict of Guilty would have been returned. The Peers, however, by sixty-nine votes to fourteen, acquitted their accused brother. One great nobleman was so brutal and stupid as to say, "After all the fellow was but a player; and players are rogues." All the newsletters, all the coffeehouse orators, complained that the blood of the poor was shed with impunity by the great. Wits remarked that the only fair thing about the trial was the show of ladies in the galleries. Letters and journals are still extant in which men of all shades of opinion, Whigs, Tories, Nonjurors, condemn the partiality of the tribunal. It was not to be expected that, while the memory of this scandal was fresh in the public mind, the Commons would be induced to give any new advantage to accused peers.
The Commons had, in the meantime, resumed the consideration of another highly important matter, the state of the trade with India. They had, towards the close of the preceding session, requested the King to dissolve the old Company and to constitute a new Company on such terms as he should think fit; and he had promised to take their request into his serious consideration. He now sent a message to inform them that it was out of his power to do what they had asked. He had referred the charter of the old Company to the Judges, and the Judges had pronounced that, under the provisions of that charter, the old Company could not be dissolved without three years' notice, and must retain during those three years the exclusive privilege of trading to the East Indies. He added that, being sincerely desirous to gratify the Commons, and finding himself unable to do so in the way which they had pointed out, he had tried to prevail on the old Company to agree to a compromise; but that body stood obstinately on its extreme rights; and his endeavours had been frustrated.
This message reopened the whole question. The two factions which divided the City were instantly on the alert. The debates in the House were long and warm. Petitions against the old Company were laid on the table. Satirical handbills against the new Company were distributed in the lobby. At length, after much discussion, it was resolved to present an address requesting the King to give the notice which the judges had pronounced necessary. He promised to bear the subject in mind, and to do his best to promote the welfare of the kingdom. With this answer the House was satisfied, and the subject was not again mentioned till the next session.
The debates of the Commons on the conduct of the war, on the law of treason and on the trade with India, occupied much time, and produced no important result. But meanwhile real business was doing in the Committee of Supply and the Committee of Ways and Means. In the Committee of Supply the estimates passed rapidly. A few members declared it to be their opinion that England ought to withdraw her troops from the Continent, to carry on the war with vigour by sea, and to keep up only such an army as might be sufficient to repel any invader who might elude the vigilance of her fleets. But this doctrine, which speedily became and long continued to be the badge of one of the great parties in the state, was as yet professed only by a small minority which did not venture to call for a division.
In the Committee of Ways and Means, it was determined that a great part of the charge of the year should be defrayed by means of an impost, which, though old in substance, was new in form. From a very early period to the middle of the seventeenth century, our Parliaments had provided for the extraordinary necessities of the government chiefly by granting subsidies. A subsidy was raised by an impost on the people of the realm in respect of their reputed estates. Landed property was the chief subject of taxation, and was assessed nominally at four shillings in the pound. But the assessment was made in such a way that it not only did not rise in proportion to the rise in the value of land or to the fall in the value of the precious metals, but went on constantly sinking, till at length the rate was in truth less than twopence in the pound. In the time of Charles the First a real tax of four shillings in the pound on land would probably have yielded near a million and a half; but a subsidy amounted to little more than fifty thousand pounds.
The financiers of the Long Parliament devised a more efficient mode of taxing estates. The sum which was to be raised was fixed. It was then distributed among the counties in proportion to their supposed wealth, and was levied within each county by a rate. The revenue derived from these assessments in the time of the Commonwealth varied from thirty-five thousand pounds to a hundred and twenty thousand pounds a month.
After the Restoration the legislature seemed for a time inclined to revert, in finance as in other things, to the ancient practice. Subsidies were once or twice granted to Charles the Second. But it soon appeared that the old system was much less convenient than the new system. The Cavaliers condescended to take a lesson in the art of taxation from the Roundheads; and, during the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution, extraordinary calls were occasionally met by assessments resembling the assessments of the Commonwealth. After the Revolution, the war with France made it necessary to have recourse annually to this abundant source of revenue. In 1689, in 1690 and in 1691, great sums had been raised on the land. At length in 1692 it was determined to draw supplies from real property more largely than ever. The Commons resolved that a new and more accurate valuation of estates should be made over the whole realm, and that on the rental thus ascertained a pound rate should be paid to the government.
Such was the origin of the existing land tax. The valuation made in 1692 has remained unaltered down to our own time. According to that valuation, one shilling in the pound on the rental of the kingdom amounted, in round numbers, to half a million. During a hundred and six years, a land tax bill was annually presented to Parliament, and was annually passed, though not always without murmurs from the country gentlemen. The rate was, in time of war, four shillings in the pound. In time of peace, before the reign of George the Third, only two or three shillings were usually granted; and, during a short part of the prudent and gentle administration of Walpole, the government asked for only one shilling. But, after the disastrous year in which England drew the sword against her American colonies, the rate was never less than four shillings. At length, in the year 1798, the Parliament relieved itself from the trouble of passing a new Act every spring. The land tax, at four shillings in the pound, was made permanent; and those who were subject to it were permitted to redeem it. A great part has been redeemed; and at present little more than a fiftieth of the ordinary revenue required in time of peace is raised by that impost which was once regarded as the most productive of all the resources of the State.
The land tax was fixed, for the year 1693, at four shillings in the pound, and consequently brought about two millions into the Treasury. That sum, small as it may seem to a generation which has expended a hundred and twenty millions in twelve months, was such as had never before been raised here in one year by direct taxation. It seemed immense both to Englishmen and to foreigners. Lewis, who found it almost impossible to wring by cruel exactions from the beggared peasantry of France the means of supporting the greatest army and the most gorgeous court that had existed in Europe since the downfall of the Roman empire, broke out, it is said, into an exclamation of angry surprise when he learned that the Commons of England had, from dread and hatred of his power, unanimously determined to lay on themselves, in a year of scarcity and of commercial embarrassment, a burden such as neither they nor their fathers had ever before borne. "My little cousin of Orange," he said, "seems to be firm in the saddle." He afterwards added: "No matter, the last piece of gold will win." This however was a consideration from which, if he had been well informed touching the resources of England, he would not have derived much comfort. Kensington was certainly a mere hovel when compared to his superb Versailles. The display of jewels, plumes and lace, led horses and gilded coaches, which daily surrounded him, far outshone the splendour which, even on great public occasions, our princes were in the habit of displaying. But the condition of the majority of the people of England was, beyond all doubt, such as the majority of the people of France might well have envied. In truth what was called severe distress here would have been called unexampled prosperity there.
The land tax was not imposed without a quarrel between the Houses. The Commons appointed commissioners to make the assessment. These commissioners were the principal gentlemen of every county, and were named in the bill. The Lords thought this arrangement inconsistent with the dignity of the peerage. They therefore inserted a clause providing that their estates should be valued by twenty of their own order. The Lower House indignantly rejected this amendment, and demanded an instant conference. After some delay, which increased the ill humour of the Commons, the conference took place. The bill was returned to the Peers with a very concise and haughty intimation that they must not presume to alter laws relating to money. A strong party among the Lords was obstinate. Mulgrave spoke at great length against the pretensions of the plebeians. He told his brethren that, if they gave way, they would abdicate that authority which had belonged to the baronage of England ever since the foundation of the monarchy, and that they would have nothing left of their old greatness except their coronets and ermines. Burnet says that this speech was the finest that he ever heard in Parliament; and Burnet was undoubtedly a good judge of speaking, and was neither partial to Mulgrave nor zealous for the privileges of the aristocracy. The orator, however, though he charmed his hearers, did not succeed in convincing them. Most of them shrank from a conflict in which they would have had against them the Commons united as one man, and the King, who, in case of necessity, would undoubtedly have created fifty peers rather than have suffered the land tax bill to be lost. Two strong protests, however, signed, the first by twenty-seven, the second by twenty-one dissentients, show how obstinately many nobles were prepared to contend at all hazards for the dignity of their caste. Another conference was held; and Rochester announced that the Lords, for the sake of the public interest, waived what they must nevertheless assert to be their clear right, and would not insist on their amendment. The bill passed, and was followed by bills for laying additional duties on imports, and for taxing the dividends of joint stock companies.
Still, however, the estimated revenue was not equal to the estimated expenditure. The year 1692 had bequeathed a large deficit to the year 1693; and it seemed probable that the charge for 1693 would exceed by about five hundred thousand pounds the charge for 1692. More than two millions had been voted for the army and ordnance, near two millions for the navy. Only eight years before fourteen hundred thousand pounds had defrayed the whole annual charge of government. More than four times that sum was now required. Taxation, both direct and indirect, had been carried to an unprecedented point; yet the income of the state still fell short of the outlay by about a million. It was necessary to devise something. Something was devised, something of which the effects are felt to this day in every part of the globe.
There was indeed nothing strange or mysterious in the expedient to which the government had recourse. It was an expedient familiar, during two centuries, to the financiers of the Continent, and could hardly fail to occur to any English statesman who compared the void in the Exchequer with the overflow in the money market.
During the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution the riches of the nation had been rapidly increasing. Thousands of busy men found every Christmas that, after the expenses of the year's housekeeping had been defrayed out of the year's income, a surplus remained; and how that surplus was to be employed was a question of some difficulty. In our time, to invest such a surplus, at something more than three per cent., on the best security that has ever been known in the world, is the work of a few minutes. But in the seventeenth century a lawyer, a physician, a retired merchant, who had saved some thousands and who wished to place them safely and profitably, was often greatly embarrassed. Three generations earlier, a man who had accumulated wealth in a profession generally purchased real property or lent his savings on mortgage. But the number of acres in the kingdom had remained the same; and the value of those acres, though it had greatly increased, had by no means increased so fast as the quantity of capital which was seeking for employment. Many too wished to put their money where they could find it at an hour's notice, and looked about for some species of property which could be more readily transferred than a house or a field. A capitalist might lend on bottomry or on personal security; but, if he did so, he ran a great risk of losing interest and principal. There were a few joint stock companies, among which the East India Company held the foremost place; but the demand for the stock of such companies was far greater than the supply. Indeed the cry for a new East India Company was chiefly raised by persons who had found difficulty in placing their savings at interest on good security. So great was that difficulty that the practice of hoarding was common. We are told that the father of Pope the poet, who retired from business in the City about the time of the Revolution, carried to a retreat in the country a strong box containing near twenty thousand pounds, and took out from time to time what was required for household expenses; and it is highly probable that this was not a solitary case. At present the quantity of coin which is hoarded by private persons is so small that it would, if brought forth, make no perceptible addition to the circulation. But, in the earlier part of the reign of William the Third, all the greatest writers on currency were of opinion that a very considerable mass of gold and silver was hidden in secret drawers and behind wainscots.
The natural effect of this state of things was that a crowd of projectors, ingenious and absurd, honest and knavish, employed themselves in devising new schemes for the employment of redundant capital. It was about the year 1688 that the word stockjobber was first heard in London. In the short space of four years a crowd of companies, every one of which confidently held out to subscribers the hope of immense gains, sprang into existence; the Insurance Company, the Paper Company, the Lutestring Company, the Pearl Fishery Company, the Glass Bottle Company, the Alum Company, the Blythe Coal Company, the Swordblade Company. There was a Tapestry Company which would soon furnish pretty hangings for all the parlours of the middle class and for all the bedchambers of the higher. There was a Copper Company which proposed to explore the mines of England, and held out a hope that they would prove not less valuable than those of Potosi. There was a Diving Company which undertook to bring up precious effects from shipwrecked vessels, and which announced that it had laid in a stock of wonderful machines resembling complete suits of armour. In front of the helmet was a huge glass eye like that of a cyclop; and out of the crest went a pipe through which the air was to be admitted. The whole process was exhibited on the Thames. Fine gentlemen and fine ladies were invited to the show, were hospitably regaled, and were delighted by seeing the divers in their panoply descend into the river and return laden with old iron, and ship's tackle. There was a Greenland Fishing Company which could not fail to drive the Dutch whalers and herring busses out of the Northern Ocean. There was a Tanning Company which promised to furnish leather superior to the best that was brought from Turkey or Russia. There was a society which undertook the office of giving gentlemen a liberal education on low terms, and which assumed the sounding name of the Royal Academies Company. In a pompous advertisement it was announced that the directors of the Royal Academies Company had engaged the best masters in every branch of knowledge, and were about to issue twenty thousand tickets at twenty shillings each. There was to be a lottery; two thousand prizes were to be drawn; and the fortunate holders of the prizes were to be taught, at the charge of the Company, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, conic sections, trigonometry, heraldry, japanning, fortification, bookkeeping and the art of playing the theorbo. Some of these companies took large mansions and printed their advertisements in gilded letters. Others, less ostentatious, were content with ink, and met at coffeehouses in the neighbourhood of the Royal Exchange. Jonathan's and Garraway's were in a constant ferment with brokers, buyers, sellers, meetings of directors, meetings of proprietors. Time bargains soon came into fashion. Extensive combinations were formed, and monstrous fables were circulated, for the purpose of raising or depressing the price of shares. Our country witnessed for the first time those phenomena with which a long experience has made us familiar. A mania of which the symptoms were essentially the same with those of the mania of 1720, of the mania of 1825, of the mania of 1845, seized the public mind. An impatience to be rich, a contempt for those slow but sure gains which are the proper reward of industry, patience and thrift, spread through society. The spirit of the cogging dicers of Whitefriars took possession of the grave Senators of the City, Wardens of Trades, Deputies, Aldermen. It was much easier and much more lucrative to put forth a lying prospectus announcing a new stock, to persuade ignorant people that the dividends could not fall short of twenty per cent., and to part with five thousand pounds of this imaginary wealth for ten thousand solid guineas, than to load a ship with a well chosen cargo for Virginia or the Levant. Every day some new bubble was puffed into existence, rose buoyant, shone bright, burst, and was forgotten.
The new form which covetousness had taken furnished the comic poets and satirists with an excellent subject; nor was that subject the less welcome to them because some of the most unscrupulous and most successful of the new race of gamesters were men in sad coloured clothes and lank hair, men who called cards the Devil's books, men who thought it a sin and a scandal to win or lose twopence over a backgammon board. It was in the last drama of Shadwell that the hypocrisy and knavery of these speculators was, for the first time, exposed to public ridicule. He died in November 1692, just before his Stockjobbers came on the stage; and the epilogue was spoken by an actor dressed in deep mourning. The best scene is that in which four or five stern Nonconformists, clad in the full Puritan costume, after discussing the prospects of the Mousetrap Company and the Fleakilling Company, examine the question whether the godly may lawfully hold stock in a Company for bringing over Chinese ropedancers. "Considerable men have shares," says one austere person in cropped hair and bands; "but verily I question whether it be lawful or not." These doubts are removed by a stout old Roundhead colonel who had fought at Marston Moor, and who reminds his weaker brother that the saints need not themselves see the ropedancing, and that, in all probability, there will be no ropedancing to see. "The thing," he says, "is like to take; the shares will sell well; and then we shall not care whether the dancers come over or no." It is important to observe that this scene was exhibited and applauded before one farthing of the national debt had been contracted. So ill informed were the numerous writers who, at a later period, ascribed to the national debt the existence of stockjobbing and of all the immoralities connected with stockjobbing. The truth is that society had, in the natural course of its growth, reached a point at which it was inevitable that there should be stockjobbing whether there were a national debt or not, and inevitable also that, if there were a long and costly war, there should be a national debt.
How indeed was it possible that a debt should not have been contracted, when one party was impelled by the strongest motives to borrow, and another was impelled by equally strong motives to lend? A moment had arrived at which the government found it impossible, without exciting the most formidable discontents, to raise by taxation the supplies necessary to defend the liberty and independence of the nation; and, at that very moment, numerous capitalists were looking round them in vain for some good mode of investing their savings, and, for want of such a mode, were keeping their wealth locked up, or were lavishing it on absurd projects. Riches sufficient to equip a navy which would sweep the German Ocean and the Atlantic of French privateers, riches sufficient to maintain an army which might retake Namur and avenge the disaster of Steinkirk, were lying idle, or were passing away from the owners into the hands of sharpers. A statesman might well think that some part of the wealth which was daily buried or squandered might, with advantage to the proprietor, to the taxpayer and to the State, be attracted into the Treasury. Why meet the extraordinary charge of a year of war by seizing the chairs, the tables, the beds of hardworking families, by compelling one country gentleman to cut down his trees before they were ready for the axe, another to let the cottages on his land fall to ruin, a third to take away his hopeful son from the University, when Change Alley was swarming with people who did not know what to do with their money and who were pressing every body to borrow it?
It was often asserted at a later period by Tories, who hated the national debt most of all things, and who hated Burnet most of all men, that Burnet was the person who first advised the government to contract a national debt. But this assertion is proved by no trustworthy evidence, and seems to be disproved by the Bishop's silence. Of all men he was the least likely to conceal the fact that an important fiscal revolution had been his work. Nor was the Board of Treasury at that time one which much needed, or was likely much to regard, the counsels of a divine. At that Board sate Godolphin the most prudent and experienced, and Montague the most daring and inventive of financiers. Neither of these eminent men could be ignorant that it had long been the practice of the neighbouring states to spread over many years of peace the excessive taxation which was made necessary by one year of war. In Italy this practice had existed through many generations. France had, during the war which began in 1672 and ended in 1679, borrowed not less than thirty millions of our money. Sir William Temple, in his interesting work on the Batavian federation, had told his countrymen that, when he was ambassador at the Hague, the single province of Holland, then ruled by the frugal and prudent De Witt, owed about five millions sterling, for which interest at four per cent. was always ready to the day, and that when any part of the principal was paid off the public creditor received his money with tears, well knowing that he could find no other investment equally secure. The wonder is not that England should have at length imitated the example both of her enemies and of her allies, but that the fourth year of her arduous and exhausting struggle against Lewis should have been drawing to a close before she resorted to an expedient so obvious.
On the fifteenth of December 1692 the House of Commons resolved itself into a Committee of Ways and Means. Somers took the chair. Montague proposed to raise a million by way of loan; the proposition was approved; and it was ordered that a bill should be brought in. The details of the scheme were much discussed and modified; but the principle appears to have been popular with all parties. The moneyed men were glad to have a good opportunity of investing what they had hoarded. The landed men, hard pressed by the load of taxation, were ready to consent to any thing for the sake of present ease. No member ventured to divide the House. On the twentieth of January the bill was read a third time, carried up to the Lords by Somers, and passed by them without any amendment.
By this memorable law new duties were imposed on beer and other liquors. These duties were to be kept in the Exchequer separate from all other receipts, and were to form a fund on the credit of which a million was to be raised by life annuities. As the annuitants dropped off, their annuities were to be divided among the survivors, till the number of survivors was reduced to seven. After that time, whatever fell in was to go to the public. It was therefore certain that the eighteenth century would be far advanced before the debt would be finally extinguished. The rate of interest was to be ten per cent. till the year 1700, and after that year seven per cent. The advantages offered to the public creditor by this scheme may seem great, but were not more than sufficient to compensate him for the risk which he ran. It was not impossible that there might be a counterrevolution; and it was certain that, if there were a counterrevolution, those who had lent money to William would lose both interest and principal.
Such was the origin of that debt which has since become the greatest prodigy that ever perplexed the sagacity and confounded the pride of statesmen and philosophers. At every stage in the growth of that debt the nation has set up the same cry of anguish and despair. At every stage in the growth of that debt it has been seriously asserted by wise men that bankruptcy and ruin were at hand. Yet still the debt went on growing; and still bankruptcy and ruin were as remote as ever. When the great contest with Lewis the Fourteenth was finally terminated by the Peace of Utrecht, the nation owed about fifty millions; and that debt was considered, not merely by the rude multitude, not merely by foxhunting squires and coffeehouse orators, but by acute and profound thinkers, as an incumbrance which would permanently cripple the body politic. Nevertheless trade flourished; wealth increased; the nation became richer and richer. Then came the war of the Austrian Succession; and the debt rose to eighty millions. Pamphleteers, historians and orators pronounced that now, at all events, our case was desperate. Yet the signs of increasing prosperity, signs which could neither be counterfeited nor concealed, ought to have satisfied observant and reflecting men that a debt of eighty millions was less to the England which was governed by Pelham than a debt of fifty millions had been to the England which was governed by Oxford. Soon war again broke forth; and, under the energetic and prodigal administration of the first William Pitt, the debt rapidly swelled to a hundred and forty millions. As soon as the first intoxication of victory was over, men of theory and men of business almost unanimously pronounced that the fatal day had now really arrived. The only statesman, indeed, active or speculative, who did not share in the general delusion was Edmund Burke. David Hume, undoubtedly one of the most profound political economists of his time, declared that our madness had exceeded the madness of the Crusaders. Richard Coeur de Lion and Saint Lewis had not gone in the face of arithmetical demonstration. It was impossible to prove by figures that the road to Paradise did not lie through the Holy Land; but it was possible to prove by figures that the road to national ruin was through the national debt. It was idle, however, now to talk about the road; we had done with the road; we had reached the goal; all was over; all the revenues of the island north of Trent and west of Reading were mortgaged. Better for us to have been conquered by Prussia or Austria than to be saddled with the interest of a hundred and forty millions. And yet this great philosopher--for such he was--had only to open his eyes, and to see improvement all around him, cities increasing, cultivation extending, marts too small for the crowd of buyers and sellers, harbours insufficient to contain the shipping, artificial rivers joining the chief inland seats of industry to the chief seaports, streets better lighted, houses better furnished, richer wares exposed to sale in statelier shops, swifter carriages rolling along smoother roads. He had, indeed, only to compare the Edinburgh of his boyhood with the Edinburgh of his old age. His prediction remains to posterity, a memorable instance of the weakness from which the strongest minds are not exempt. Adam Smith saw a little, and but a little further. He admitted that, immense as the burden was, the nation did actually sustain it and thrive under it in a way which nobody could have foreseen. But he warned his countrymen not to repeat so hazardous an experiment. The limit had been reached. Even a small increase might be fatal. Not less gloomy was the view which George Grenville, a minister eminently diligent and practical, took of our financial situation. The nation must, he conceived, sink under a debt of a hundred and forty millions, unless a portion of the load were borne by the American colonies. The attempt to lay a portion of the load on the American colonies produced another war. That war left us with an additional hundred millions of debt, and without the colonies whose help had been represented as indispensable. Again England was given over; and again the strange patient persisted in becoming stronger and more blooming in spite of all the diagnostics and prognostics of State physicians. As she had been visibly more prosperous with a debt of a hundred and forty millions than with a debt of fifty millions, so she was visibly more prosperous with a debt of two hundred and forty millions than with a debt of a hundred and forty millions. Soon however the wars which sprang from the French Revolution, and which far exceeded in cost any that the world had ever seen, tasked the powers of public credit to the utmost. When the world was again at rest the funded debt of England amounted to eight hundred millions. If the most enlightened man had been told, in 1792, that, in 1815, the interest on eight hundred millions would be duly paid to the day at the Bank, he would have been as hard of belief as if he had been told that the government would be in possession of the lamp of Aladdin or of the purse of Fortunatus. It was in truth a gigantic, a fabulous debt; and we can hardly wonder that the cry of despair should have been louder than ever. But again that cry was found to have been as unreasonable as ever. After a few years of exhaustion, England recovered herself. Yet, like Addison's valetudinarian, who continued to whimper that he was dying of consumption till he became so fat that he was shamed into silence, she went on complaining that she was sunk in poverty till her wealth showed itself by tokens which made her complaints ridiculous. The beggared, the bankrupt society not only proved able to meet all its obligations, but, while meeting those obligations, grew richer and richer so fast that the growth could almost be discerned by the eye. In every county, we saw wastes recently turned into gardens; in every city, we saw new streets, and squares, and markets, more brilliant lamps, more abundant supplies of water; in the suburbs of every great seat of industry, we saw villas multiplying fast, each embosomed in its gay little paradise of lilacs and roses. While shallow politicians were repeating that the energies of the people were borne down by the weight of the public burdens, the first journey was performed by steam on a railway. Soon the island was intersected by railways. A sum exceeding the whole amount of the national debt at the end of the American war was, in a few years, voluntarily expended by this ruined people in viaducts, tunnels, embankments, bridges, stations, engines. Meanwhile taxation was almost constantly becoming lighter and lighter; yet still the Exchequer was full. It may be now affirmed without fear of contradiction that we find it as easy to pay the interest of eight hundred millions as our ancestors found it, a century ago, to pay the interest of eighty millions.
It can hardly be doubted that there must have been some great fallacy in the notions of those who uttered and of those who believed that long succession of confident predictions, so signally falsified by a long succession of indisputable facts. To point out that fallacy is the office rather of the political economist than of the historian. Here it is sufficient to say that the prophets of evil were under a double delusion. They erroneously imagined that there was an exact analogy between the case of an individual who is in debt to another individual and the case of a society which is in debt to a part of itself; and this analogy led them into endless mistakes about the effect of the system of funding. They were under an error not less serious touching the resources of the country. They made no allowance for the effect produced by the incessant progress of every experimental science, and by the incessant efforts of every man to get on in life. They saw that the debt grew; and they forgot that other things grew as well as the debt.
A long experience justifies us in believing that England may, in the twentieth century, be better able to bear a debt of sixteen hundred millions than she is at the present time to bear her present load. But be this as it may, those who so confidently predicted that she must sink, first under a debt of fifty millions, then under a debt of eighty millions, then under a debt of a hundred and forty millions, then under a debt of two hundred and forty millions, and lastly under a debt of eight hundred millions, were beyond all doubt under a twofold mistake. They greatly overrated the pressure of the burden; they greatly underrated the strength by which the burden was to be borne. [371a]
It may be desirable to add a few words touching the way in which the system of funding has affected the interests of the great commonwealth of nations. If it be true that whatever gives to intelligence an advantage over brute force and to honesty an advantage over dishonesty has a tendency to promote the happiness and virtue of our race, it can scarcely be denied that, in the largest view, the effect of this system has been salutary. For it is manifest that all credit depends on two things, on the power of a debtor to pay debts, and on his inclination to pay them. The power of a society to pay debts is proportioned to the progress which that society has made in industry, in commerce, and in all the arts and sciences which flourish under the benignant influence of freedom and of equal law. The inclination of a society to pay debts is proportioned to the degree in which that society respects the obligations of plighted faith. Of the strength which consists in extent of territory and in number of fighting men, a rude despot who knows no law but his own childish fancies and headstrong passions, or a convention of socialists which proclaims all property to be robbery, may have more than falls to the lot of the best and wisest government. But the strength which is derived from the confidence of capitalists such a despot, such a convention, never can possess. That strength,-- and it is a strength which has decided the event of more than one great conflict,--flies, by the law of its nature, from barbarism and fraud, from tyranny and anarchy, to follow civilisation and virtue, liberty and order.
While the bill which first created the funded debt of England was passing, with general approbation, through the regular stages, the two Houses discussed, for the first time, the great question of Parliamentary Reform.
It is to be observed that the object of the reformers of that generation was merely to make the representative body a more faithful interpreter of the sense of the constituent body. It seems scarcely to have occurred to any of them that the constituent body might be an unfaithful interpreter of the sense of the nation. It is true that those deformities in the structure of the constituent body, which, at length, in our own days, raised an irresistible storm of public indignation, were far less numerous and far less offensive in the seventeenth century than they had become in the nineteenth. Most of the boroughs which were disfranchised in 1832 were, if not positively, yet relatively, much more important places in the reign of William the Third than in the reign of William the Fourth. Of the populous and wealthy manufacturing towns, seaports and watering places, to which the franchise was given in the reign of William the Fourth, some were, in the reign of William the Third, small hamlets, where a few ploughmen or fishermen lived under thatched roofs; some were fields covered with harvests, or moors abandoned to grouse. With the exception of Leeds and Manchester, there was not, at the time of the Revolution, a single town of five thousand inhabitants which did not send two representatives to the House of Commons. Even then, however, there was no want of startling anomalies. Looe, East and West, which contained not half the population or half the wealth of the smallest of the hundred parishes of London, returned as many members as London. Old Sarum, a deserted ruin which the traveller feared to enter at night lest he should find robbers lurking there, had as much weight in the legislature as Devonshire or Yorkshire. Some eminent individuals of both parties, Clarendon, for example, among the Tories, and Pollexfen among the Whigs, condemned this system. Yet both parties were, for very different reasons, unwilling to alter it. It was protected by the prejudices of one faction and by the interests of the other. Nothing could be more repugnant to the genius of Toryism than the thought of destroying at a blow institutions which had stood through ages, for the purpose of building something more symmetrical out of the ruins. The Whigs, on the other hand, could not but know that they were much more likely to lose than to gain by a change in this part of our polity. It would indeed be a great mistake to imagine that a law transferring political power from small to large constituent bodies would have operated in 1692 as it operated in 1832. In 1832 the effect of the transfer was to increase the power of the town population. In 1692 the effect would have been to make the power of the rural population irresistible. Of the one hundred and forty-two members taken away in 1832 from small boroughs more than half were given to large and flourishing towns. But in 1692 there was hardly one large and flourishing town which had not already as many members as it could, with any show of reason, claim. Almost all therefore that was taken from the small boroughs must have been given to the counties; and there can be no doubt that whatever tended to raise the counties and to depress the towns must on the whole have tended to raise the Tories and to depress the Whigs. From the commencement of our civil troubles the towns had been on the side of freedom and progress, the country gentlemen and the country clergymen on the side of authority and prescription. If therefore a reform bill, disfranchising small constituent bodies and giving additional members to large constituent bodies, had become law soon after the Revolution, there can be little doubt that a decided majority of the House of Commons would have consisted of rustic baronets and squires, high Churchmen, high Tories, and half Jacobites. With such a House of Commons it is almost certain that there would have been a persecution of the Dissenters; it is not easy to understand how there could have been an union with Scotland; and it is not improbable that there would have been a restoration of the Stuarts. Those parts of our constitution therefore which, in recent times, politicians of the liberal school have generally considered as blemishes, were, five generations ago, regarded with complacency by the men who were most zealous for civil and religious freedom.
But, while Whigs and Tories agreed in wishing to maintain the existing rights of election, both Whigs and Tories were forced to admit that the relation between the elector and the representative was not what it ought to be. Before the civil wars the House of Commons had enjoyed the fullest confidence of the nation. A House of Commons, distrusted, despised, hated by the Commons, was a thing unknown. The very words would, to Sir Peter Wentworth or Sir Edward Coke, have sounded like a contradiction in terms. But by degrees a change took place. The Parliament elected in 1661, during that fit of joy and fondness which followed the return of the royal family, represented, not the deliberate sense, but the momentary caprice of the nation. Many of the members were men who, a few months earlier or a few months later, would have had no chance of obtaining seats, men of broken fortunes and of dissolute habits, men whose only claim to public confidence was the ferocious hatred which they bore to rebels and Puritans. The people, as soon as they had become sober, saw with dismay to what an assembly they had, during their intoxication, confided the care of their property, their liberty and their religion. And the choice, made in a moment of frantic enthusiasm, might prove to be a choice for life. As the law then stood, it depended entirely on the King's pleasure whether, during his reign, the electors should have an opportunity of repairing their error. Eighteen years passed away. A new generation grew up. To the fervid loyalty with which Charles had been welcomed back to Dover succeeded discontent and disaffection. The general cry was that the kingdom was misgoverned, degraded, given up as a prey to worthless men and more worthless women, that our navy had been found unequal to a contest with Holland, that our independence had been bartered for the gold of France, that our consciences were in danger of being again subjected to the yoke of Rome. The people had become Roundheads; but the body which alone was authorised to speak in the name of the people was still a body of Cavaliers. It is true that the King occasionally found even that House of Commons unmanageable. From the first it had contained not a few true Englishmen; others had been introduced into it as vacancies were made by death; and even the majority, courtly as it was, could not but feel some sympathy with the nation. A country party grew up and became formidable. But that party constantly found its exertions frustrated by systematic corruption. That some members of the legislature received direct bribes was with good reason suspected, but could not be proved. That the patronage of the Crown was employed on an extensive scale for the purpose of influencing votes was matter of notoriety. A large proportion of those who gave away the public money in supplies received part of that money back in salaries; and thus was formed a mercenary band on which the Court might, in almost any extremity, confidently rely.
The servility of this Parliament had left a deep impression on the public mind. It was the general opinion that England ought to be protected against all risk of being ever again represented, during a long course of years, by men who had forfeited her confidence, and who were retained by a fee to vote against her wishes and interests. The subject was mentioned in the Convention; and some members wished to deal with it while the throne was still vacant. The cry for reform had ever since been becoming more and more importunate. The people, heavily pressed by taxes, were naturally disposed to regard those who lived on the taxes with little favour. The war, it was generally acknowledged, was just and necessary; and war could not be carried on without large expenditure. But the larger the expenditure which was required for the defence of the nation, the more important it was that nothing should be squandered. The immense gains of official men moved envy and indignation. Here a gentleman was paid to do nothing. There many gentlemen were paid to do what would be better done by one. The coach, the liveries, the lace cravat and diamond buckles of the placeman were naturally seen with an evil eye by those who rose up early and lay down late in order to furnish him with the means of indulging in splendour and luxury. Such abuses it was the especial business of a House of Commons to correct. What then had the existing House of Commons done in the way of correction? Absolutely nothing. In 1690, indeed, while the Civil List was settling, some sharp speeches had been made. In 1691, when the Ways and Means were under consideration, a resolution had been passed so absurdly framed that it had proved utterly abortive. The nuisance continued, and would continue while it was a source of profit to those whose duty was to abate it. Who could expect faithful and vigilant stewardship from stewards who had a direct interest in encouraging the waste which they were employed to check? The House swarmed with placemen of all kinds, Lords of the Treasury, Lords of the Admiralty, Commissioners of Customs, Commissioners of Excise, Commissioners of Prizes, Tellers, Auditors, Receivers, Paymasters, Officers of the Mint, Officers of the household, Colonels of regiments, Captains of men of war, Governors of forts. We send up to Westminster, it was said, one of our neighbours, an independent gentleman, in the full confidence that his feelings and interests are in perfect accordance with ours. We look to him to relieve us from every burden except those burdens without which the public service cannot be carried on, and which therefore, galling as they are, we patiently and resolutely bear. But before he has been a session in Parliament we learn that he is a Clerk of the Green Cloth or a Yeoman of the Removing Wardrobe, with a comfortable salary. Nay, we sometimes learn that he has obtained one of those places in the Exchequer of which the emoluments rise and fall with the taxes which we pay. It would be strange indeed if our interests were safe in the keeping of a man whose gains consist in a percentage on our losses. The evil would be greatly diminished if we had frequent opportunities of considering whether the powers of our agent ought to be renewed or revoked. But, as the law stands, it is not impossible that he may hold those powers twenty or thirty years. While he lives, and while either the King or the Queen lives, it is not likely that we shall ever again exercise our elective franchise, unless there should be a dispute between the Court and the Parliament. The more profuse and obsequious a Parliament is, the less likely it is to give offence to the Court. The worse our representatives, therefore, the longer we are likely to be cursed with them.
The outcry was loud. Odious nicknames were given to the Parliament. Sometimes it was the Officers' Parliament; sometimes it was the Standing Parliament, and was pronounced to be a greater nuisance than even a standing army.
Two specifics for the distempers of the State were strongly recommended, and divided the public favour. One was a law excluding placemen from the House of Commons. The other was a law limiting the duration of Parliaments to three years. In general the Tory reformers preferred a Place Bill, and the Whig reformers a Triennial Bill; but not a few zealous men of both parties were for trying both remedies.
Before Christmas a Place Bill was laid on the table of the Commons. That bill has been vehemently praised by writers who never saw it, and who merely guessed at what it contained. But no person who takes the trouble to study the original parchment, which, embrowned with the dust of a hundred and sixty years, reposes among the archives of the House of Lords, will find much matter for eulogy.
About the manner in which such a bill should have been framed there will, in our time, be little difference of opinion among enlightened Englishmen. They will agree in thinking that it would be most pernicious to open the House of Commons to all placemen, and not less pernicious to close that House against all placemen. To draw with precision the line between those who ought to be admitted and those who ought to be excluded would be a task requiring much time, thought and knowledge of details. But the general principles which ought to guide us are obvious. The multitude of subordinate functionaries ought to be excluded. A few functionaries who are at the head or near the head of the great departments of the administration ought to be admitted.
The subordinate functionaries ought to be excluded, because their admission would at once lower the character of Parliament and destroy the efficiency of every public office. They are now excluded, and the consequence is that the State possesses a valuable body of servants who remain unchanged while cabinet after cabinet is formed and dissolved, who instruct every successive minister in his duties, and with whom it is the most sacred point of honour to give true information, sincere advice, and strenuous assistance to their superior for the time being. To the experience, the ability and the fidelity of this class of men is to be attributed the ease and safety with which the direction of affairs has been many times, within our own memory, transferred from Tories to Whigs and from Whigs to Tories. But no such class would have existed if persons who received salaries from the Crown had been suffered to sit without restriction in the House of Commons. Those commissionerships, assistant secretaryships, chief clerkships, which are now held for life by persons who stand aloof from the strife of parties, would have been bestowed on members of Parliament who were serviceable to the government as voluble speakers or steady voters. As often as the ministry was changed, all this crowd of retainers would have been ejected from office, and would have been succeeded by another set of members of Parliament who would probably have been ejected in their turn before they had half learned their business. Servility and corruption in the legislature, ignorance and incapacity in all the departments of the executive administration, would have been the inevitable effects of such a system.
Still more noxious, if possible, would be the effects of a system under which all the servants of the Crown, without exception, should be excluded from the House of Commons. Aristotle has, in that treatise on government which is perhaps the most judicious and instructive of all his writings, left us a warning against a class of laws artfully framed to delude the vulgar, democratic in seeming, but oligarchic in effect. Had he had an opportunity of studying the history of the English constitution, he might easily have enlarged his list of such laws. That men who are in the service and pay of the Crown ought not to sit in an assembly specially charged with the duty of guarding the rights and interests of the community against all aggression on the part of the Crown is a plausible and a popular doctrine. Yet it is certain that if those who, five generations ago, held that doctrine, had been able to mould the constitution according to their wishes, the effect would have been the depression of that branch of the legislature which springs from the people and is accountable to the people, and the ascendency of the monarchical and aristocratical elements of our polity. The government would have been entirely in patrician hands. The House of Lords, constantly drawing to itself the first abilities in the realm, would have become the most august of senates, while the House of Commons would have sunk almost to the rank of a vestry. From time to time undoubtedly men of commanding genius and of aspiring temper would have made their appearance among the representatives of the counties and boroughs. But every such man would have considered the elective chamber merely as a lobby through which he must pass to the hereditary chamber. The first object of his ambition would have been that coronet without which he could not be powerful in the state. As soon as he had shown that he could be a formidable enemy and a valuable friend to the government, he would have made haste to quit what would then have been in every sense the Lower House for what would then have been in every sense the Upper. The conflict between Walpole and Pulteney, the conflict between Pitt and Fox, would have been transferred from the popular to the aristocratic part of the legislature. On every great question, foreign, domestic or colonial, the debates of the nobles would have been impatiently expected and eagerly devoured. The report of the proceedings of an assembly containing no person empowered to speak in the name of the government, no person who had ever been in high political trust, would have been thrown aside with contempt. Even the control of the purse of the nation must have passed, not perhaps in form, but in substance, to that body in which would have been found every man who was qualified to bring forward a budget or explain an estimate. The country would have been governed by Peers; and the chief business of the Commons would have been to wrangle about bills for the inclosing of moors and the lighting of towns.
These considerations were altogether overlooked in 1692. Nobody thought of drawing a line between the few functionaries who ought to be allowed to sit in the House of Commons and the crowd of functionaries who ought to be shut out. The only line which the legislators of that day took pains to draw was between themselves and their successors. Their own interest they guarded with a care of which it seems strange that they should not have been ashamed. Every one of them was allowed to keep the places which he had got, and to get as many more places as he could before the next dissolution of Parliament, an event which might not happen for many years. But a member who should be chosen after the first of February 1693 was not to be permitted to accept any place whatever.
In the House of Commons the bill passed through all its stages rapidly and without a single division. But in the Lords the contest was sharp and obstinate. Several amendments were proposed in committee; but all were rejected. The motion that the bill should pass was supported by Mulgrave in a lively and poignant speech, which has been preserved, and which proves that his reputation for eloquence was not unmerited. The Lords who took the other side did not, it should seem, venture to deny that there was an evil which required a remedy; but they maintained that the proposed remedy would only aggravate the evil. The patriotic representatives of the people had devised a reform which might perhaps benefit the next generation; but they had carefully reserved to themselves the privilege of plundering the present generation. If this bill passed, it was clear that, while the existing Parliament lasted, the number of placemen in the House of Commons would be little, if at all, diminished; and, if this bill passed, it was highly probable that the existing Parliament would last till both King William and Queen Mary were dead. For as, under this bill, Their Majesties would be able to exercise a much greater influence over the existing Parliament than over any future Parliament, they would naturally wish to put off a dissolution as long as possible. The complaint of the electors of England was that now, in 1692, they were unfairly represented. It was not redress, but mockery, to tell them that their children should be fairly represented in 1710 or 1720. The relief ought to be immediate; and the way to give immediate relief was to limit the duration of Parliaments, and to begin with that Parliament which, in the opinion of the country, had already held power too long.
The forces were so evenly balanced that a very slight accident might have turned the scale. When the question was put that the bill do pass, eighty-two peers were present. Of these forty-two were for the bill, and forty against it. Proxies were then called. There were only two proxies for the bill; there were seven against it; but of the seven three were questioned, and were with difficulty admitted. The result was that the bill was lost by three votes.
The majority appears to have been composed of moderate Whigs and moderate Tories. Twenty of the minority protested, and among them were the most violent and intolerant members of both parties, such as Warrington, who had narrowly escaped the block for conspiring against James, and Aylesbury, who afterwards narrowly escaped the block for conspiring against William. Marlborough, who, since his imprisonment, had gone all lengths in opposition to the government, not only put his own name to the protest, but made the Prince of Denmark sign what it was altogether beyond the faculties of His Royal Highness to comprehend.
It is a remarkable circumstance that neither Caermarthen, the first in power as well as in abilities of the Tory ministers, nor Shrewsbury, the most distinguished of those Whigs who were then on bad terms with the Court, was present on this important occasion. Their absence was in all probability the effect of design; for both of them were in the House no long time before and no long time after the division.
A few days later Shrewsbury laid on the table of the Lords a bill for limiting the duration of Parliaments. By this bill it was provided that the Parliament then sitting should cease to exist on the first of January 1694, and that no future Parliament should last longer than three years.
Among the Lords there seems to have been almost perfect unanimity on this subject. William in vain endeavoured to induce those peers in whom he placed the greatest confidence to support his prerogative. Some of them thought the proposed change salutary; others hoped to quiet the public mind by a liberal concession; and others had held such language when they were opposing the Place Bill that they could not, without gross inconsistency, oppose the Triennial Bill. The whole House too bore a grudge to the other House, and had a pleasure in putting the other House in a most disagreeable dilemma. Burnet, Pembroke, nay, even Caermarthen, who was very little in the habit of siding with the people against the throne, supported Shrewsbury. "My Lord," said the King to Caermarthen, with bitter displeasure, "you will live to repent the part which you are taking in this matter." The warning was disregarded; and the bill, having passed the Lords smoothly and rapidly, was carried with great solemnity by two judges to the Commons.
Of what took place in the Commons we have but very meagre accounts; but from those accounts it is clear that the Whigs, as a body, supported the bill, and that the opposition came chiefly from Tories. Old Titus, who had been a politician in the days of the Commonwealth, entertained the House with a speech in the style which had been fashionable in those days. Parliaments, he said, resembled the manna which God bestowed on the chosen people. They were excellent while they were fresh; but if kept too long they became noisome; and foul worms were engendered by the corruption of that which had been sweeter than honey. Littleton and other leading Whigs spoke on the same side. Seymour, Finch, and Tredenham, all stanch Tories, were vehement against the bill; and even Sir John Lowther on this point dissented from his friend and patron Caermarthen. Several Tory orators appealed to a feeling which was strong in the House, and which had, since the Revolution, prevented many laws from passing. Whatever, they said, comes from the Peers is to be received with suspicion; and the present bill is of such a nature that, even if it were in itself good, it ought to be at once rejected merely because it has been brought down from them. If their Lordships were to send us the most judicious of all money bills, should we not kick it to the door? Yet to send us a money bill would hardly be a grosser affront than to send us such a bill as this. They have taken an initiative which, by every rule of parliamentary courtesy, ought to have been left to us. They have sate in judgment on us, convicted us, condemned us to dissolution, and fixed the first of January for the execution. Are we to submit patiently to so degrading a sentence, a sentence too passed by men who have not so conducted themselves as to have acquired any right to censure others? Have they ever made any sacrifice of their own interest, of their own dignity, to the general welfare? Have not excellent bills been lost because we would not consent to insert in them clauses conferring new privileges on the nobility? And now that their Lordships are bent on obtaining popularity, do they propose to purchase it by relinquishing even the smallest of their own oppressive privileges? No; they offer to their country that which will cost them nothing, but which will cost us and will cost the Crown dear. In such circumstances it is our duty to repel the insult which has been offered to us, and, by doing so, to vindicate the lawful prerogative of the King.
Such topics as these were doubtless well qualified to inflame the passions of the House of Commons. The near prospect of a dissolution could not be very agreeable to a member whose election was likely to be contested. He must go through all the miseries of a canvass, must shake hands with crowds of freeholders or freemen, must ask after their wives and children, must hire conveyances for outvoters, must open alehouses, must provide mountains of beef, must set rivers of ale running, and might perhaps, after all the drudgery and all the expense, after being lampooned, hustled, pelted, find himself at the bottom of the poll, see his antagonists chaired, and sink half ruined into obscurity. All this evil he was now invited to bring on himself, and invited by men whose own seats in the legislature were permanent, who gave up neither dignity nor quiet, neither power nor money, but gained the praise of patriotism by forcing him to abdicate a high station, to undergo harassing labour and anxiety, to mortgage his cornfields and to hew down his woods. There was naturally much irritation, more probably than is indicated by the divisions. For the constituent bodies were generally delighted with the bill; and many members who disliked it were afraid to oppose it. The House yielded to the pressure of public opinion, but not without a pang and a struggle. The discussions in the committee seem to have been acrimonious. Such sharp words passed between Seymour and one of the Whig members that it was necessary to put the Speaker in the chair and the mace on the table for the purpose of restoring order. One amendment was made. The respite which the Lords had granted to the existing Parliament was extended from the first of January to Lady Day, in order that there might be full time for another session. The third reading was carried by two hundred votes to a hundred and sixty-one. The Lords agreed to the bill as amended; and nothing was wanting but the royal assent. Whether that assent would or would not be given was a question which remained in suspense till the last day of the session.
One strange inconsistency in the conduct of the reformers of that generation deserves notice. It never occurred to any one of those who were zealous for the Triennial Bill that every argument which could be urged in favour of that bill was are argument against the rules which had been framed in old times for the purpose of keeping parliamentary deliberations and divisions strictly secret. It is quite natural that a government which withholds political privileges from the commonalty should withhold also political information. But nothing can be more irrational than to give power, and not to give the knowledge without which there is the greatest risk that power will be abused. What could be more absurd than to call constituent bodies frequently together that they might decide whether their representative had done his duty by them, and yet strictly to interdict them from learning, on trustworthy authority, what he had said or how he had voted? The absurdity however appears to have passed altogether unchallenged. It is highly probable that among the two hundred members of the House of Commons who voted for the third reading of the Triennial Bill there was not one who would have hesitated about sending to Newgate any person who had dared to publish a report of the debate on that bill, or a list of the Ayes and the Noes. The truth is that the secrecy of parliamentary debates, a secrecy which would now be thought a grievance more intolerable than the Shipmoney or the Star Chamber, was then inseparably associated, even in the most honest and intelligent minds, with constitutional freedom. A few old men still living could remember times when a gentleman who was known at Whitehall to have let fall a sharp word against a court favourite would have been brought before the Privy Council and sent to the Tower. Those times were gone, never to return. There was no longer any danger that the King would oppress the members of the legislature; and there was much danger that the members of the legislature might oppress the people. Nevertheless the words Privilege of Parliament, those words which the stern senators of the preceding generation had murmured when a tyrant filled their chamber with his guards, those words which a hundred thousand Londoners had shouted in his ears when he ventured for the last time within the walls of their city; still retained a magical influence over all who loved liberty. It was long before even the most enlightened men became sensible that the precautions which had been originally devised for the purpose of protecting patriots against the displeasure of the Court now served only to protect sycophants against the displeasure of the nation.
It is also to be observed that few of those who showed at this time the greatest desire to increase the political power of the people were as yet prepared to emancipate the press from the control of the government. The Licensing Act, which had passed, as a matter of course, in 1685, expired in 1693, and was renewed, not however without an opposition, which, though feeble when compared with the magnitude of the object in dispute, proved that the public mind was beginning dimly to perceive how closely civil freedom and freedom of conscience are connected with freedom of discussion.
On the history of the Licensing Act no preceding writer has thought it worth while to expend any care or labour. Yet surely the events which led to the establishment of the liberty of the press in England, and in all the countries peopled by the English race, may be thought to have as much interest for the present generation as any of those battles and sieges of which the most minute details have been carefully recorded.
During the first three years of William's reign scarcely a voice seems to have been raised against the restrictions which the law imposed on literature. Those restrictions were in perfect harmony with the theory of government held by the Tories, and were not, in practice, galling to the Whigs. Roger Lestrange, who had been licenser under the last two Kings of the House of Stuart, and who had shown as little tenderness to Exclusionists and Presbyterians in that character as in his other character of Observator, was turned out of office at the Revolution, and was succeeded by a Scotch gentleman, who, on account of his passion for rare books, and his habit of attending all sales of libraries, was known in the shops and coffeehouses near Saint Paul's by the name of Catalogue Fraser. Fraser was a zealous Whig. By Whig authors and publishers he was extolled as a most impartial and humane man. But the conduct which obtained their applause drew on him the abuse of the Tories, and was not altogether pleasing to his official superior Nottingham. No serious difference however seems to have arisen till the year 1692. In that year an honest old clergyman named Walker, who had, in the time of the Commonwealth, been Gauden's curate, wrote a book which convinced all sensible and dispassionate readers that Gauden, and not Charles the First, was the author of the Icon Basilike. This book Fraser suffered to be printed. If he had authorised the publication of a work in which the Gospel of Saint John or the Epistle to the Romans had been represented as spurious, the indignation of the High Church party could hardly have been greater. The question was not literary, but religious. Doubt was impiety. In truth the Icon was to many fervent Royalists a supplementary revelation. One of them indeed had gone so far as to propose that lessons taken out of the inestimable little volume should be read in the churches. Fraser found it necessary to resign his place; and Nottingham appointed a gentleman of good blood and scanty fortune named Edmund Bohun. This change of men produced an immediate and total change of system; for Bohun was as strong a Tory as a conscientious man who had taken the oaths could possibly be. He had been conspicuous as a persecutor of nonconformists and a champion of the doctrine of passive obedience. He had edited Filmer's absurd treatise on the origin of government, and had written an answer to the paper which Algernon Sidney had delivered to the Sheriffs on Tower Hill. Nor did Bohun admit that, in swearing allegiance to William and Mary, he had done any thing inconsistent with his old creed. For he had succeeded in convincing himself that they reigned by right of conquest, and that it was the duty of an Englishman to serve them as faithfully as Daniel had served Darius or as Nehemiah had served Artaxerxes. This doctrine, whatever peace it might bring to his own conscience, found little favour with any party. The Whigs loathed it as servile; the Jacobites loathed it as revolutionary. Great numbers of Tories had doubtless submitted to William on the ground that he was, rightfully or wrongfully, King in possession; but very few of them were disposed to allow that his possession had originated in conquest. Indeed the plea which had satisfied the weak and narrow mind of Bohun was a mere fiction, and, had it been a truth, would have been a truth not to be uttered by Englishmen without agonies of shame and mortification. He however clung to his favourite whimsy with a tenacity which the general disapprobation only made more intense. His old friends, the stedfast adherents of indefeasible hereditary right, grew cold and reserved. He asked Sancroft's blessing, and got only a sharp word, and a black look. He asked Ken's blessing; and Ken, though not much in the habit of transgressing the rules of Christian charity and courtesy, murmured something about a little scribbler. Thus cast out by one faction, Bohun was not received by any other. He formed indeed a class apart; for he was at once a zealous Filmerite and a zealous Williamite. He held that pure monarchy, not limited by any law or contract, was the form of government which had been divinely ordained. But he held that William was now the absolute monarch, who might annul the Great Charter, abolish trial by jury, or impose taxes by royal proclamation, without forfeiting the right to be implicitly obeyed by Christian men. As to the rest, Bohun was a man of some learning, mean understanding and unpopular manners. He had no sooner entered on his functions than all Paternoster Row and Little Britain were in a ferment. The Whigs had, under Fraser's administration, enjoyed almost as entire a liberty as if there had been no censorship. But they were now as severely treated as in the days of Lestrange. A History of the Bloody Assizes was about to be published, and was expected to have as great a run as the Pilgrim's Progress. But the new licenser refused his Imprimatur. The book, he said, represented rebels and schismatics as heroes and martyrs; and he would not sanction it for its weight in gold. A charge delivered by Lord Warrington to the grand jury of Cheshire was not permitted to appear, because His Lordship had spoken contemptuously of divine right and passive obedience. Julian Johnson found that, if he wished to promulgate his notions of government, he must again have recourse, as in the evil times of King James, to a secret press. Such restraint as this, coming after several years of unbounded freedom, naturally produced violent exasperation. Some Whigs began to think that the censorship itself was a grievance; all Whigs agreed in pronouncing the new censor unfit for his post, and were prepared to join in an effort to get rid of him.
Of the transactions which terminated in Bohun's dismission, and which produced the first parliamentary struggle for the liberty of unlicensed printing, we have accounts written by Bohun himself and by others; but there are strong reasons for believing that in none of those accounts is the whole truth to be found. It may perhaps not be impossible, even at this distance of time, to put together dispersed fragments of evidence in such a manner as to produce an authentic narrative which would have astonished the unfortunate licenser himself.
There was then about town a man of good family, of some reading, and of some small literary talent, named Charles Blount. In politics he belonged to the extreme section of the Whig party. In the days of the Exclusion Bill he had been one of Shaftesbury's brisk boys, and had, under the signature of Junius Brutus, magnified the virtues and public services of Titus Oates, and exhorted the Protestants to take signal vengeance on the Papists for the fire of London and for the murder of Godfrey. As to the theological questions which were in issue between Protestants and Papists, Blount was perfectly impartial. He was an infidel, and the head of a small school of infidels who were troubled with a morbid desire to make converts. He translated from the Latin translation part of the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, and appended to it notes of which the flippant profaneness called forth the severe censure of an unbeliever of a very different order, the illustrious Bayle. Blount also attacked Christianity in several original treatises, or rather in several treatises purporting to be original; for he was the most audacious of literary thieves, and transcribed, without acknowledgment, whole pages from authors who had preceded him. His delight was to worry the priests by asking them how light existed before the sun was made, how Paradise could be bounded by Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates, how serpents moved before they were condemned to crawl, and where Eve found thread to stitch her figleaves. To his speculations on these subjects he gave the lofty name of the Oracles of Reason; and indeed whatever he said or wrote was considered as oracular by his disciples. Of those disciples the most noted was a bad writer named Gildon, who lived to pester another generation with doggrel and slander, and whose memory is still preserved, not by his own voluminous works, but by two or three lines in which his stupidity and venality have been contemptuously mentioned by Pope.
Little as either the intellectual or the moral character of Blount may seem to deserve respect, it is in a great measure to him that we must attribute the emancipation of the English press. Between him and the licensers there was a feud of long standing. Before the Revolution one of his heterodox treatises had been grievously mutilated by Lestrange, and at last suppressed by orders from Lestrange's superior the Bishop of London. Bohun was a scarcely less severe critic than Lestrange. Blount therefore began to make war on the censorship and the censor. The hostilities were commenced by a tract which came forth without any license, and which is entitled A Just Vindication of Learning and of the Liberty of the Press, by Philopatris. Whoever reads this piece, and is not aware that Blount was one of the most unscrupulous plagiaries that ever lived, will be surprised to find, mingled with the poor thoughts and poor words of a thirdrate pamphleteer, passages so elevated in sentiment and style that they would be worthy of the greatest name in letters. The truth is that the Just Vindication consists chiefly of garbled extracts from the Areopagitica of Milton. That noble discourse had been neglected by the generation to which it was addressed, had sunk into oblivion, and was at the mercy of every pilferer. The literary workmanship of Blount resembled the architectural workmanship of those barbarians who used the Coliseum and the Theatre of Pompey as quarries, who built hovels out of Ionian friezes and propped cowhouses on pillars of lazulite. Blount concluded, as Milton had done, by recommending that any book might be printed without a license, provided that the name of the author or publisher were registered. The Just Vindication was well received. The blow was speedily followed up. There still remained in the Areopagitica many fine passages which Blount had not used in his first pamphlet. Out of these passages he constructed a second pamphlet entitled Reasons for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. To these Reasons he appended a postscript entitled A Just and True Character of Edmund Bohun. This character was written with extreme bitterness. Passages were quoted from the licenser's writings to prove that he held the doctrines of passive obedience and nonresistance. He was accused of using his power systematically for the purpose of favouring the enemies and silencing the friends of the Sovereigns whose bread he ate; and it was asserted that he was the friend and the pupil of his predecessor Sir Roger.
Blount's Character of Bohun could not be publicly sold; but it was widely circulated. While it was passing from hand to hand, and while the Whigs were every where exclaiming against the new censor as a second Lestrange, he was requested to authorise the publication of an anonymous work entitled King William and Queen Mary Conquerors. He readily and indeed eagerly complied. For in truth there was between the doctrines which he had long professed and the doctrines which were propounded in this treatise a coincidence so exact that many suspected him of being the author; nor was this suspicion weakened by a passage to which a compliment was paid to his political writings. But the real author was that very Blount who was, at that very time, labouring to inflame the public both against the Licensing Act and the licenser. Blount's motives may easily be divined. His own opinions were diametrically opposed to those which, on this occasion, he put forward in the most offensive manner. It is therefore impossible to doubt that his object was to ensnare and to ruin Bohun. It was a base and wicked scheme. But it cannot be denied that the trap was laid and baited with much skill. The republican succeeded in personating a high Tory. The atheist succeeded in personating a high Churchman. The pamphlet concluded with a devout prayer that the God of light and love would open the understanding and govern the will of Englishmen, so that they might see the things which belonged to their peace. The censor was in raptures. In every page he found his own thoughts expressed more plainly than he had ever expressed them. Never before, in his opinion, had the true claim of their Majesties to obedience been so clearly stated. Every Jacobite who read this admirable tract must inevitably be converted. The nonjurors would flock to take the oaths. The nation, so long divided, would at length be united. From these pleasing dreams Bohun was awakened by learning, a few hours after the appearance of the discourse which had charmed him, that the titlepage had set all London in a flame, and that the odious words, King William and Queen Mary Conquerors, had moved the indignation of multitudes who had never read further. Only four days after the publication he heard that the House of Commons had taken the matter up, that the book had been called by some members a rascally book, and that, as the author was unknown, the Serjeant at Arms was in search of the licenser. Bohun's mind had never been strong; and he was entirely unnerved and bewildered by the fury and suddenness of the storm which had burst upon him. He went to the House. Most of the members whom he met in the passages and lobbies frowned on him. When he was put to the bar, and, after three profound obeisances, ventured to lift his head and look round him, he could read his doom in the angry and contemptuous looks which were cast on him from every side. He hesitated, blundered, contradicted himself, called the Speaker My Lord, and, by his confused way of speaking, raised a tempest of rude laughter which confused him still more. As soon as he had withdrawn, it was unanimously resolved that the obnoxious treatise should be burned in Palace Yard by the common hangman. It was also resolved, without a division, that the King should be requested to remove Bohun from the office of licenser. The poor man, ready to faint with grief and fear, was conducted by the officers of the House to a place of confinement.
But scarcely was he in his prison when a large body of members clamorously demanded a more important victim. Burnet had, shortly after he became Bishop of Salisbury, addressed to the clergy of his diocese a Pastoral Letter, exhorting them to take the oaths. In one paragraph of this letter he had held language bearing some resemblance to that of the pamphlet which had just been sentenced to the flames. There were indeed distinctions which a judicious and impartial tribunal would not have failed to notice. But the tribunal before which Burnet was arraigned was neither judicious nor impartial. His faults had made him many enemies, and his virtues many more. The discontented Whigs complained that he leaned towards the Court, the High Churchmen that he leaned towards the Dissenters; nor can it be supposed that a man of so much boldness and so little tact, a man so indiscreetly frank and so restlessly active, had passed through life without crossing the schemes and wounding the feelings of some whose opinions agreed with his. He was regarded with peculiar malevolence by Howe. Howe had never, even while he was in office, been in the habit of restraining his bitter and petulant tongue; and he had recently been turned out of office in a way which had made him ungovernably ferocious. The history of his dismission is not accurately known, but it was certainly accompanied by some circumstances which had cruelly galled his temper. If rumour could be trusted, he had fancied that Mary was in love with him, and had availed himself of an opportunity which offered itself while he was in attendance on her as Vice Chamberlain to make some advances which had justly moved her indignation. Soon after he was discarded, he was prosecuted for having, in a fit of passion, beaten one of his servants savagely within the verge of the palace. He had pleaded guilty, and had been pardoned; but from this time he showed, on every occasion, the most rancorous personal hatred of his royal mistress, of her husband, and of all who were favoured by either. It was known that the Queen frequently consulted Burnet; and Howe was possessed with the belief that her severity was to be imputed to Burnet's influence. Now was the time to be revenged. In a long and elaborate speech the spiteful Whig--for such he still affected to be--represented Burnet as a Tory of the worst class. "There should be a law," he said, "making it penal for the clergy to introduce politics into their discourses. Formerly they sought to enslave us by crying up the divine and indefeasible right of the hereditary prince. Now they try to arrive at the same result by telling us that we are a conquered people." It was moved that the Bishop should be impeached. To this motion there was an unanswerable objection, which the Speaker pointed out. The Pastoral Letter had been written in 1689, and was therefore covered by the Act of Grace which had been passed in 1690. Yet a member was not ashamed to say, "No matter: impeach him; and force him to plead the Act." Few, however, were disposed to take a course so unworthy of a House of Commons. Some wag cried out, "Burn it; burn it;" and this bad pun ran along the benches, and was received with shouts of laughter. It was moved that the Pastoral Letter should be burned by the common hangman. A long and vehement debate followed. For Burnet was a man warmly loved as well as warmly hated. The great majority of the Whigs stood firmly by him; and his goodnature and generosity had made him friends even among the Tories. The contest lasted two days. Montague and Finch, men of widely different opinions, appear to have been foremost among the Bishop's champions. An attempt to get rid of the subject by moving the previous question failed. At length the main question was put; and the Pastoral Letter was condemned to the flames by a small majority in a full house. The Ayes were a hundred and sixty-two; the Noes a hundred and fifty- five. The general opinion, at least of the capital, seems to have been that Burnet was cruelly treated.
He was not naturally a man of fine feelings; and the life which he had led had not tended to make them finer. He had been during many years a mark for theological and political animosity. Grave doctors had anathematized him; ribald poets had lampooned him; princes and ministers had laid snares for his life; he had been long a wanderer and an exile, in constant peril of being kidnapped, struck in the boots, hanged and quartered. Yet none of these things had ever seemed to move him. His selfconceit had been proof against ridicule, and his dauntless temper against danger. But on this occasion his fortitude seems to have failed him. To be stigmatized by the popular branch of the legislature as a teacher of doctrines so servile that they disgusted even Tories, to be joined in one sentence of condemnation with the editor of Filmer, was too much. How deeply Burnet was wounded appeared many years later, when, after his death, his History of his Life and Times was given to the world. In that work he is ordinarily garrulous even to minuteness about all that concerns himself, and sometimes relates with amusing ingenuousness his own mistakes and the censures which those mistakes brought upon him. But about the ignominious judgment passed by the House of Commons on his Pastoral Letter he has preserved a most significant silence.
The plot which ruined Bohun, though it did no honour to those who contrived it, produced important and salutary effects. Before the conduct of the unlucky licenser had been brought under the consideration of Parliament, the Commons had resolved, without any division, and, as far as appears, without any discussion, that the Act which subjected literature to a censorship should be continued. But the question had now assumed a new aspect; and the continuation of the Act was no longer regarded as a matter of course. A feeling in favour of the liberty of the press, a feeling not yet, it is true, of wide extent or formidable intensity, began to show itself. The existing system, it was said, was prejudicial both to commerce and to learning. Could it be expected that any capitalist would advance the funds necessary for a great literary undertaking, or that any scholar would expend years of toil and research on such an undertaking, while it was possible that, at the last moment, the caprice, the malice, the folly of one man might frustrate the whole design? And was it certain that the law which so grievously restricted both the freedom of trade and the freedom of thought had really added to the security of the State? Had not recent experience proved that the licenser might himself be an enemy of their Majesties, or, worse still, an absurd and perverse friend; that he might suppress a book of which it would be for their interest that every house in the country should have a copy, and that he might readily give his sanction to a libel which tended to make them hateful to their people, and which deserved to be torn and burned by the hand of Ketch? Had the government gained much by establishing a literary police which prevented Englishmen from having the History of the Bloody Circuit, and allowed them, by way of compensation, to read tracts which represented King William and Queen Mary as conquerors?
In that age persons who were not specially interested in a public bill very seldom petitioned Parliament against it or for it. The only petitions therefore which were at this conjuncture presented to the two Houses against the censorship came from booksellers, bookbinders and printers. But the opinion which these classes expressed was certainly not confined to them.
The law which was about to expire had lasted eight years. It was renewed for only two years. It appears, from an entry in the journals of the Commons which unfortunately is defective, that a division took place on an amendment about the nature of which we are left entirely in the dark. The votes were ninety-nine to eighty. In the Lords it was proposed, according to the suggestion offered fifty years before by Milton and stolen from him by Blount, to exempt from the authority of the licenser every book which bore the name of an author or publisher. This amendment was rejected; and the bill passed, but not without a protest signed by eleven peers who declared that they could not think it for the public interest to subject all learning and true information to the arbitrary will and pleasure of a mercenary and perhaps ignorant licenser. Among those who protested were Halifax, Shrewsbury and Mulgrave, three noblemen belonging to different political parties, but all distinguished by their literary attainments. It is to be lamented that the signatures of Tillotson and Burnet, who were both present on that day, should be wanting. Dorset was absent.
Blount, by whose exertions and machinations the opposition to the censorship had been raised, did not live to see that opposition successful. Though not a very young man, he was possessed by an insane passion for the sister of his deceased wife. Having long laboured in vain to convince the object of his love that she might lawfully marry him, he at last, whether from weariness of life, or in the hope of touching her heart, inflicted on himself a wound of which, after languishing long, he died. He has often been mentioned as a blasphemer and selfmurderer. But the important service which, by means doubtless most immoral and dishonourable, he rendered to his country, has passed almost unnoticed.
Late in this busy and eventful session the attention of the Houses was called to the state of Ireland. The government of that kingdom had, during the six months which followed the surrender of Limerick, been in an unsettled state. It was not till the Irish troops who adhered to Sarsfield had sailed for France, and till the Irish troops who had made their election to remain at home had been disbanded, that William at length put forth a proclamation solemnly announcing the termination of the civil war. From the hostility of the aboriginal inhabitants, destitute as they now were of chiefs, of arms and of organization, nothing was to be apprehended beyond occasional robberies and murders. But the war cry of the Irishry had scarcely died away when the first faint murmurs of the Englishry began to be heard. Coningsby was during some months at the head of the administration. He soon made himself in the highest degree odious to the dominant caste. He was an unprincipled man; he was insatiable of riches; and he was in a situation in which riches were easily to be obtained by an unprincipled man. Immense sums of money, immense quantities of military stores had been sent over from England. Immense confiscations were taking place in Ireland. The rapacious governor had daily opportunities of embezzling and extorting; and of those opportunities he availed himself without scruple or shame. This however was not, in the estimation of the colonists, his greatest offence. They might have pardoned his covetousness; but they could not pardon the clemency which he showed to their vanquished and enslaved enemies. His clemency indeed amounted merely to this, that he loved money more than he hated Papists, and that he was not unwilling to sell for a high price a scanty measure of justice to some of the oppressed class. Unhappily, to the ruling minority, sore from recent conflict and drunk with recent victory, the subjugated majority was as a drove of cattle, or rather as a pack of wolves. Man acknowledges in the inferior animals no rights inconsistent with his own convenience; and as man deals with the inferior animals the Cromwellian thought himself at liberty to deal with the Roman Catholic. Coningsby therefore drew on himself a greater storm of obloquy by his few good acts than by his many bad acts. The clamour against him was so violent that he was removed; and Sidney went over, with the full power and dignity of Lord Lieutenant, to hold a Parliament at Dublin.
But the easy temper and graceful manners of Sidney failed to produce a conciliatory effect. He does not indeed appear to have been greedy of unlawful gain. But he did not restrain with a sufficiently firm hand the crowd of subordinate functionaries whom Coningsby's example and protection had encouraged to plunder the public and to sell their good offices to suitors. Nor was the new Viceroy of a temper to bear hard on the feeble remains of the native aristocracy. He therefore speedily became an object of suspicion and aversion to the Anglosaxon settlers. His first act was to send out the writs for a general election. The Roman Catholics had been excluded from every municipal corporation; but no law had yet deprived them of the county franchise. It is probable however that not a single Roman Catholic freeholder ventured to approach the hustings. The members chosen were, with few exceptions, men animated by the spirit of Enniskillen and Londonderry, a spirit eminently heroic in times of distress and peril, but too often cruel and imperious in the season of prosperity and power. They detested the civil treaty of Limerick, and were indignant when they learned that the Lord Lieutenant fully expected from them a parliamentary ratification of that odious contract, a contract which gave a licence to the idolatry of the mass, and which prevented good Protestants from ruining their Popish neighbours by bringing civil actions for injuries done during the war.
On the fifth of October 1692 the Parliament met at Dublin in Chichester House. It was very differently composed from the assembly which had borne the same title in 1689. Scarcely one peer, not one member of the House of Commons, who had sate at the King's Inns, was to be seen. To the crowd of O's and Macs, descendants of the old princes of the island, had succeeded men whose names indicated a Saxon origin. A single O, an apostate from the faith of his fathers, and three Macs, evidently emigrants from Scotland, and probably Presbyterians, had seats in the assembly.
The Parliament, thus composed, had then less than the powers of the Assembly of Jamaica or of the Assembly of Virginia. Not merely was the Legislature which sate at Dublin subject to the absolute control of the Legislature which sate at Westminster: but a law passed in the fifteenth century, during the administration of the Lord Deputy Poynings, and called by his name, had provided that no bill which had not been considered and approved by the Privy Council of England should be brought into either House in Ireland, and that every bill so considered and approved should be either passed without amendment or rejected.
The session opened with a solemn recognition of the paramount authority of the mother country. The Commons ordered their clerk to read to them the English Act which required them to take the Oath of Supremacy and to subscribe the Declaration against Transubstantiation. Having heard the Act read, they immediately proceeded to obey it. Addresses were then voted which expressed the warmest gratitude and attachment to the King. Two members, who had been untrue to the Protestant and English interest during the troubles, were expelled. Supplies, liberal when compared with the resources of a country devastated by years of predatory war, were voted with eagerness. But the bill for confirming the Act of Settlement was thought to be too favourable to the native gentry, and, as it could not be amended, was with little ceremony rejected. A committee of the whole House resolved that the unjustifiable indulgence with which the Irish had been treated since the battle of the Boyne was one of the chief causes of the misery of the kingdom. A Committee of Grievances sate daily till eleven in the evening; and the proceedings of this inquest greatly alarmed the Castle. Many instances of gross venality and knavery on the part of men high in office were brought to light, and many instances also of what was then thought a criminal lenity towards the subject nation. This Papist had been allowed to enlist in the army; that Papist had been allowed to keep a gun; a third had too good a horse; a fourth had been protected against Protestants who wished to bring actions against him for wrongs committed during the years of confusion. The Lord Lieutenant, having obtained nearly as much money as he could expect, determined to put an end to these unpleasant inquiries. He knew, however, that if he quarrelled with the Parliament for treating either peculators or Papists with severity, he should have little support in England. He therefore looked out for a pretext, and was fortunate enough to find one. The Commons had passed a vote which might with some plausibility be represented as inconsistent with the Poynings statute. Any thing which looked like a violation of that great fundamental law was likely to excite strong disapprobation on the other side of Saint George's Channel. The Viceroy saw his advantage, and availed himself of it. He went to the chamber of the Lords at Chichester House, sent for the Commons, reprimanded theme in strong language, charged them with undutifully and ungratefully encroaching on the rights of the mother country, and put an end to the session.
Those whom he had lectured withdrew full of resentment. The imputation which he had thrown on them was unjust. They had a strong feeling of love and reverence for the land from which they sprang, and looked with confidence for redress to the supreme Parliament. Several of them went to London for the purpose of vindicating themselves and of accusing the Lord Lieutenant. They were favoured with a long and attentive audience, both by the Lords and by the Commons, and were requested to put the substance of what had been said into writing. The humble language of the petitioners, and their protestations that they had never intended to violate the Poynings statute, or to dispute the paramount authority of England, effaced the impression which Sidney's accusations had made. Both Houses addressed the King on the state of Ireland. They censured no delinquent by name; but they expressed an opinion that there had been gross maladministration, that the public had been plundered, and that Roman Catholics had been treated with unjustifiable tenderness. William in reply promised that what was amiss should be corrected. His friend Sidney was soon recalled, and consoled for the loss of the viceregal dignity with the lucrative place of Master of the Ordnance. The government of Ireland was for a time entrusted to Lords Justices, among whom Sir Henry Capel, a zealous Whig, very little disposed to show indulgence to Papists, had the foremost place.
The prorogation drew nigh; and still the fate of the Triennial Bill was uncertain. Some of the ablest ministers thought the bill a good one; and, even had they thought it a bad one, they would probably have tried to dissuade their master from rejecting it. It was impossible, however, to remove from his mind the impression that a concession on this point would seriously impair his authority. Not relying on the judgment of his ordinary advisers, he sent Portland to ask the opinion of Sir William Temple. Temple had made a retreat for himself at a place called Moor Park, in the neighbourhood of Farnham. The country round his dwelling was almost a wilderness. His amusement during some years had been to create in the waste what those Dutch burgomasters among whom he had passed some of the best years of his life, would have considered as a paradise. His hermitage had been occasionally honoured by the presence of the King, who had from a boy known and esteemed the author of the Triple Alliance, and who was well pleased to find, among the heath and furze of the wilds of Surrey, a spot which seemed to be part of Holland, a straight canal, a terrace, rows of clipped trees, and rectangular beds of flowers and potherbs.
Portland now repaired to this secluded abode and consulted the oracle. Temple was decidedly of opinion that the bill ought to pass. He was apprehensive that the reasons which led him to form this opinion might not be fully and correctly reported to the King by Portland, who was indeed as brave a soldier and as trusty a friend as ever lived, whose natural abilities were not inconsiderable, and who, in some departments of business, had great experience, but who was very imperfectly acquainted with the history and constitution of England. As the state of Sir William's health made it impossible for him to go himself to Kensington, he determined to send his secretary thither. The secretary was a poor scholar of four or five and twenty, under whose plain garb and ungainly deportment were concealed some of the choicest gifts that have ever been bestowed on any of the children of men; rare powers of observation, brilliant wit, grotesque invention, humour of the most austere flavour, yet exquisitely delicious, eloquence singularly pure, manly and perspicuous. This young man was named Jonathan Swift. He was born in Ireland, but would have thought himself insulted if he had been called an Irishman. He was of unmixed English blood, and, through life, regarded the aboriginal population of the island in which he first drew breath as an alien and a servile caste. He had in the late reign kept terms at the University of Dublin, but had been distinguished there only by his irregularities, and had with difficulty obtained his degree. At the time of the Revolution, he had, with many thousands of his fellow colonists, taken refuge in the mother country from the violence of Tyrconnel, and had thought himself fortunate in being able to obtain shelter at Moor Park. For that shelter, however, he had to pay a heavy price. He was thought to be sufficiently remunerated for his services with twenty pounds a year and his board. He dined at the second table. Sometimes, indeed, when better company was not to be had, he was honoured by being invited to play at cards with his patron; and on such occasions Sir William was so generous as to give his antagonist a little silver to begin with. The humble student would not have dared to raise his eyes to a lady of family; but, when he had become a clergyman, he began, after the fashion of the clergymen of that generation, to make love to a pretty waitingmaid who was the chief ornament of the servants' hall, and whose name is inseparably associated with his in a sad and mysterious history.
Swift many years later confessed some part of what he felt when he found himself on his way to Court. His spirit had been bowed down, and might seem to have been broken, by calamities and humiliations. The language which he was in the habit of holding to his patron, as far as we can judge from the specimens which still remain, was that of a lacquey, or rather of a beggar. A sharp word or a cold look of the master sufficed to make the servant miserable during several days. But this tameness was merely the tameness with which a tiger, caught, caged and starved, submits to the keeper who brings him food. The humble menial was at heart the haughtiest, the most aspiring, the most vindictive, the most despotic of men. And now at length a great, a boundless prospect was opening before him. To William he was already slightly known. At Moor Park the King had sometimes, when his host was confined by gout to an easy chair, been attended by the secretary about the grounds. His Majesty had condescended to teach his companion the Dutch way of cutting and eating asparagus, and had graciously asked whether Mr. Swift would like to have a captain's commission in a cavalry regiment. But now for the first time the young man was to stand in the royal presence as a counsellor. He was admitted into the closet, delivered a letter from Temple, and explained and enforced the arguments which that letter contained, concisely, but doubtless with clearness and ability. There was, he said, no reason to think that short Parliaments would be more disposed than long Parliaments to encroach on the just prerogatives of the Crown. In fact the Parliament which had, in the preceding generation, waged war against a king, led him captive, sent him to the prison, to the bar, to the scaffold, was known in our annals as emphatically the Long Parliament. Never would such disasters have befallen the monarchy but for the fatal law which secured that assembly from dissolution. There was, it must be owned, a flaw in this reasoning which a man less shrewd than William might easily detect. That one restriction of the royal prerogative had been mischievous did not prove that another restriction would be salutary. It by no means followed because one sovereign had been ruined by being unable to get rid of a hostile Parliament that another sovereign might not be ruined by being forced to part with a friendly Parliament. To the great mortification of the ambassador, his arguments failed to shake the King's resolution. On the fourteenth of March the Commons were summoned to the Upper House; the title of the Triennial Bill was read; and it was announced, after the ancient form, that the King and Queen would take the matter into their consideration. The Parliament was then prorogued.
Soon after the prorogation William set out for the Continent. It was necessary that, before his departure, he should make some important changes. He was resolved not to discard Nottingham, on whose integrity, a virtue rare among English statesmen, he placed a well founded reliance. Yet, if Nottingham remained Secretary of State, it was impossible to employ Russell at sea. Russell, though much mortified, was induced to accept a lucrative post in the household; and two naval officers of great note in their profession, Killegrew and Delaval, were placed at the Board of Admiralty and entrusted with the command of the Channel Fleet. These arrangements caused much murmuring among the Whigs; for Killegrew and Delaval were certainly Tories, and were by many suspected of being Jacobites. But other promotions which took place at the same time proved that the King wished to bear himself evenly between the hostile factions. Nottingham had, during a year, been the sole Secretary of State. He was now joined with a colleague in whose society he must have felt himself very ill at ease, John Trenchard. Trenchard belonged to the extreme section of the Whig party. He was a Taunton man, animated by that spirit which had, during two generations, peculiarly distinguished Taunton. He had, in the days of Popeburnings and of Protestant flails, been one of the renowned Green Riband Club; he had been an active member of several stormy Parliaments; he had brought in the first Exclusion Bill; he had been deeply concerned in the plots formed by the chiefs of the opposition; he had fled to the Continent; he had been long an exile; and he had been excepted by name from the general pardon of 1686. Though his life had been passed in turmoil, his temper was naturally calm; but he was closely connected with a set of men whose passions were far fiercer than his own. He had married the sister of Hugh Speke, one of the falsest and most malignant of the libellers who brought disgrace on the cause of constitutional freedom. Aaron Smith, the solicitor of the Treasury, a man in whom the fanatic and the pettifogger were strangely united, possessed too much influence over the new Secretary, with whom he had, ten years before, discussed plans of rebellion at the Rose. Why Trenchard was selected in preference to many men of higher rank and greater ability for a post of the first dignity and importance, it is difficult to say. It seems however that, though he bore the title and drew the salary of Secretary of State, he was not trusted with any of the graver secrets of State, and that he was little more than a superintendent of police, charged to look after the printers of unlicensed books, the pastors of nonjuring congregations, and the haunters of treason taverns.
Another Whig of far higher character was called at the same time to a far higher place in the administration. The Great Seal had now been four years in commission. Since Maynard's retirement, the constitution of the Court of Chancery had commanded little respect. Trevor, who was the First Commissioner, wanted neither parts nor learning; but his integrity was with good reason suspected; and the duties which, as Speaker of the House of Commons, he had to perform during four or five months in the busiest part of every year, made it impossible for him to be an efficient judge in equity. Every suitor complained that he had to wait a most unreasonable time for a judgment, and that, when at length a judgment had been pronounced, it was very likely to be reversed on appeal. Meanwhile there was no efficient minister of justice, no great functionary to whom it especially belonged to advise the King touching the appointment of judges, of Counsel for the Crown, of Justices of the Peace. It was known that William was sensible of the inconvenience of this state of things; and, during several months, there had been flying rumours that a Lord Keeper or a Lord Chancellor would soon be appointed. The name most frequently mentioned was that of Nottingham. But the same reasons which had prevented him from accepting the Great Seal in 1689 had, since that year, rather gained than lost strength. William at length fixed his choice on Somers.
Somers was only in his forty-second year; and five years had not elapsed since, on the great day of the trial of the Bishops, his powers had first been made known to the world. From that time his fame had been steadily and rapidly rising. Neither in forensic nor in parliamentary eloquence had he any superior. The consistency of his public conduct had gained for him the entire confidence of the Whigs; and the urbanity of his manners had conciliated the Tories. It was not without great reluctance that he consented to quit an assembly over which he exercised an immense influence for an assembly where it would be necessary for him to sit in silence. He had been but a short time in great practice. His savings were small. Not having the means of supporting a hereditary title, he must, if he accepted the high dignity which was offered to him, preside during some years in the Upper House without taking part in the debates. The opinion of others, however, was that he would be more useful as head of the law than as head of the Whig party in the Commons. He was sent for to Kensington, and called into the Council Chamber. Caermarthen spoke in the name of the King. "Sir John," he said, "it is necessary for the public service that you should take this charge upon you; and I have it in command from His Majesty to say that he can admit of no excuse." Somers submitted. The seal was delivered to him, with a patent which entitled him to a pension of two thousand a year from the day on which he should quit his office; and he was immediately sworn in a Privy Councillor and Lord Keeper.
The Gazette which announced these changes in the administration, announced also the King's departure. He set out for Holland on the twenty-fourth of March.
He left orders that the Estates of Scotland should, after a recess of more than two years and a half, be again called together. Hamilton, who had lived many months in retirement, had, since the fall of Melville, been reconciled to the Court, and now consented to quit his retreat, and to occupy Holyrood House as Lord High Commissioner. It was necessary that one of the Secretaries of State for Scotland should be in attendance on the King. The Master of Stair had therefore gone to the Continent. His colleague, Johnstone, was chief manager for the Crown at Edinburgh, and was charged to correspond regularly with Carstairs, who never quitted William.
It might naturally have been expected that the session would be turbulent. The Parliament was that very Parliament which had in 1689 passed, by overwhelming majorities, all the most violent resolutions which Montgomery and his club could frame, which had refused supplies, which had proscribed the ministers of the Crown, which had closed the Courts of Justice, which had seemed bent on turning Scotland into an oligarchical republic. In 1690 the Estates had been in a better temper. Yet, even in 1690, they had, when the ecclesiastical polity of the realm was under consideration, paid little deference to what was well known to be the royal wish. They had abolished patronage; they had sanctioned the rabbling of the episcopal clergy; they had refused to pass a Toleration Act. It seemed likely that they would still be found unmanageable when questions touching religion came before them; and such questions it was unfortunately necessary to bring forward. William had, during the recess, attempted to persuade the General Assembly of the Church to receive into communion such of the old curates as should subscribe the Confession of Faith and should submit to the government of Synods. But the attempt had failed; and the Assembly had consequently been dissolved by the Lord Commissioner. Unhappily, the Act which established the Presbyterian polity had not defined the extent of the power which was to be exercised by the Sovereign over the Spiritual Courts. No sooner therefore had the dissolution been announced than the Moderator requested permission to speak. He was told that he was now merely a private person. As a private person he requested a hearing, and protested, in the name of his brethren, against the royal mandate. The right, he said, of the office bearers of the Church to meet and deliberate touching her interests was derived from her Divine Head, and was not dependent on the pleasure of the temporal magistrate. His brethren stood up, and by an approving murmur signified their concurrence in what their President had said. Before they retired they fixed a day for their next meeting. It was indeed a very distant day; and when it came neither minister nor elder attended;for even the boldest members shrank from a complete rupture with the civil power. But, though there was not open war between the Church and the Government, they were estranged from each other, jealous of each other, and afraid of each other. No progress had been made towards a reconciliation when the Estates met; and which side the Estates would take might well be doubted.
But the proceedings of this strange Parliament, in almost every one of its sessions, falsified all the predictions of politicians. It had once been the most unmanageable of senates. It was now the most obsequious. Yet the old men had again met in the old hall. There were all the most noisy agitators of the club, with the exception of Montgomery, who was dying of want and of a broken heart in a garret far from his native land. There was the canting Ross and the perfidious Annandale. There was Sir Patrick Hume, lately created a peer, and henceforth to be called Lord Polwarth, but still as eloquent as when his interminable declamations and dissertations ruined the expedition of Argyle. But the whole spirit of the assembly had undergone a change. The members listened with profound respect to the royal letter, and returned an answer in reverential and affectionate language. An extraordinary aid of a hundred and fourteen thousand pounds sterling was granted to the Crown. Severe laws were enacted against the Jacobites. The legislation on ecclesiastical matters was as Erastian as William himself could have desired. An Act was passed requiring all ministers of the Established Church to swear fealty to their Majesties, and directing the General Assembly to receive into communion those Episcopalian ministers, not yet deprived, who should declare that they conformed to the Presbyterian doctrine and discipline. Nay, the Estates carried adulation so far as to make it their humble request to the King that he would be pleased to confer a Scotch peerage on his favourite Portland. This was indeed their chief petition. They did not ask for redress of a single grievance. They contented themselves with hinting in general terms that there were abuses which required correction, and with referring the King for fuller information to his own Ministers, the Lord High Commissioner and the Secretary of State.
There was one subject on which it may seem strange that even the most servile of Scottish Parliaments should have kept silence. More than a year had elapsed since the massacre of Glencoe; and it might have been expected that the whole assembly, peers, commissioners of shires, commissioners of burghs, would with one voice have demanded a strict investigation into that great crime. It is certain, however, that no motion for investigation was made. The state of the Gaelic clans was indeed taken into consideration. A law was passed for the more effectual suppressing of depredations and outrages beyond the Highland line; and in that law was inserted a special proviso reserving to Mac Callum More his hereditary jurisdiction. But it does not appear, either from the public records of the proceedings of the Estates, or from those private letters in which Johnstone regularly gave Carstairs an account of what had passed, that any speaker made any allusion to the fate of Mac Ian and his kinsmen. The only explanation of this extraordinary silence seems to be that the public men who were assembled in the capital of Scotland knew little and cared little about the fate of a thieving tribe of Celts. The injured clan, bowed down by fear of the allpowerful Campbells, and little accustomed to resort to the constituted authorities of the kingdom for protection or redress, presented no petition to the Estates. The story of the butchery had been told at coffeehouses, but had been told in different ways. Very recently, one or two books, in which the facts were but too truly related, had come forth from the secret presses of London. But those books were not publicly exposed to sale. They bore the name of no responsible author. The Jacobite writers were, as a class, savagely malignant and utterly regardless of truth. Since the Macdonalds did not complain, a prudent man might naturally be unwilling to incur the displeasure of the King, of the ministers, and of the most powerful family in Scotland, by bringing forward an accusation grounded on nothing but reports wandering from mouth to mouth, or pamphlets which no licenser had approved, to which no author had put his name, and which no bookseller ventured to place in his shop-window. But whether this be or be not the true solution, it is certain that the Estates separated quietly after a session of two months, during which, as far as can now be discovered, the name of Glencoe was not once uttered in the Parliament House.