Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER IV.

THE PRINCE'S ESTABLISHMENT.

Tie lavish distribution of patronage among the successive tutors and servants of the prince excited some angry remark, and much ridicule, at the time. But the minister rapidly overwhelmed this topic of public irritation by supplying the empire with injuries on a larger scale. North's propensity to govern by favours was the weakness of his nature; and this weakness was soon urged into a diseased prodigality by the trials of his government.

America had just taken the bold but guilty step of declaring her independence ; France was almost openly preparing for war. Every lurking bitterness of fancied wrong, or hopeless rivalry, throughout Europe, was starting into sudden life at the summons of America. The beacon burning on the American shores was reflected across the Atlantic, and answered by a similar blaze in every corner of the continent. Even at home, rebellion seemed to be rising, scarcely less in the measured hostility of the great English parties, than in the haughty defiance and spiendid menace of Ireland, then half-frenzied with a sense of young vigour, and glittering in her first mail.

powers of

The king,

Lord North was now at the head of the Treasury, and on him rested the whole weight of the British administration; a burden too heavy for the

any one man, and in this instance less solicited by his own ambition than urged upon him by the royal command. abandoned by the Duke of Grafton, insulted by Chatham, tyrannised over by the great party of the nobility, and harassed by the perpetual irritation of the people, had soon felt the severe tenure of authority; and there were times when, in mingled scorn and indignation, he was said to have thought of laying down the galling circle of an English crown, and retiring to Hanover. In this emergency his choice had fallen upon North, a man of rank, of parliamentary experience, and probably of the full measure of zeal for the public service, consistent with a personal career essentially of caution, suspicion, and struggle ;- but of undoubted respect for his royal master, and loyal attachment to the throne.

North had been all but born in the legislature, and all his efforts had been early directed to legislatorial distinction. “ Here comes blubbering North,” was the observation of some official person to George Grenville, as they saw the future premier in the Park, evidently in deep study. “I'll be hanged if he's not getting some harangue by heart for the House.” He added :

He added : “ that he was so dull a dog, that it could be nothing of his

own."

The latter remark, however, Grenville more sagaciously repelled by giving tribute to North's parliamentary qualities, and saying, that, “ If he laboured with his customary diligence, he might one day lead the councils of the country.” But the injurious yet natural result of North's official education was, his conceiving that the empire must be prosperous so long as the minister was secure, and that the grand secret of human government was a majority.

At a distance of time, in which the clouds that then covered public affairs with utter mystery have melted away, we can discover that the minister, with all his intrepidity, would gladly have taken refuge under any protection from the storm that was already announcing itself, as if by thunderclaps, round the whole national horizon. But the competitors for his power were too certain of possession to suffer him to take shelter among them; and his only alternative was to resign his place, or make a desperate use of the prerogative. Whatever may be the virtue of later ministers, the temptation would have been irresistible by any administration of the last century; and we can scarcely blame North, so much as human nature in his day, if he embraced the evil opportunity in all its plenitude.

Ten peers at once were called up to the English house. But it was in Ireland, a country then as much famed for the rapid production of

patriotism and its rapid conversion to official zeal, as now for the more tangible product of sheep and oxen ; where the perpetual defalcation of revenue was proudly overpaid by the perpetual surplusage of orators ready to defend the right at all hazards and all salaries, and rally round government to its last shilling,- it was in Ireland, where the remoteness of the Treasury table seems never to have dulled the appetite of the guests for the banquet, that the minister dazzled the eyes of opposition at home, by the display of his unchecked munificence.

One day, the 2d of July, 1777, saw the Irish peerage reinforced by eighteen new barons, seven barons further secured by being created viscounts, and five viscounts advanced to earldoms! Against the wielder of patronage like this, what party fidelity could stand? There never had been such a brevet in Ireland : and every man suddenly discovered the unrighteousness of resistance to a minister so gifted with wisdom, and the privilege of dispensing favours. The fountain of honour had often before flowed copiously in ministerial emergencies; but now, as one of the Irish orators said on a similar occasion, in the curious pleasantry of his country, “ It flowed forth as freely, spontaneously, and abundantly as Holywell, in Wales, which turns so many mills.” It fairly washed Irish opposition away. In England it softened even the more stubborn material

D

of Opposition to an extraordinary degree of plasticity. In the midst of popular outcry, the increase of public expenses, and disastrous news from America, the address was carried by a majority of three to one.

But a more powerful and inflexible antagonist than political partisanship soon rose against this feeble system of expedients; public nisfortune was against the ministry. The American revolt bad rapidly grown from a scorned insurrection into a recognised war; Washington's triumphis over the ignorance of a succession of generals, who should never have been trusted out of sight of II yde Park, legitimated rebellion. Victory threw a corering of dignity and justice over the original nakedness of a revolt not more against England than against every principle of right and honour; and popular indignation at unexpected defeat turned round and revenged itself on the premier. In this emergency, North undoubtedly exhibited powers which surprised and often bafiled his parliamentary assailants. If fancy and facetiousness could have sustained an administration, his might have triumphed, for no man ever tossed those light shafts with more pungent dexterity. But his hour was come. Every wind that blew from America brought with it evil tidings for the minister. Opposition, paralysed by its first defeats, now started UP sudden boldness, Every new disaster of the

into

« ÎnapoiContinuați »