'In senates rose
The fort of freedom! slow till then, alone,
Had work'd that general liberty, that soul,
Which generous nature breathes.' - THOMSON.
Origin of Parliaments|
Wages of Members of Parliament
Dissolving the Long Parliament
No Liberty, No Subsidy
Fletcher and Lord Stair
Law and Privilege
Publishing the Debates
Earl of Shaftesbury
The Septennial Act
The Hanoverian Succession
Holland and Hardwicke
Effect of Manner
What is Corruption?
Earl of Chatham
Chatham and Holland
Mansfield on General Warrants
Burke and Barre
Rescue of Lord North
Accuracy of Reporting
Influence Behind the Throne
Treating under False Colours
Abduction of Voters
The Retort Perplexing
Burke put to Flight
Raising the Judges Salaries
The Robin Hood Society|
Royal Marriage Act
Sir Joseph Mawbey
Sir Gilbert Heathcote
Sir Boyle Roche
Moving for Papers
Sir William Yonge
Remonstrating with the Crown
Henry the Sixth
Case of Westbury
English Good Nature
Employment of Popish Officers
The Convention Parliament
Legislating in a Foreign Tongue
Speaker's Speech to the King
Whig and Tory
The Rebels Of 1715
Old Standing Orders
Pulteney, Earl of Bath
Purifying the House
House of Correction
The Christian Club
Being in the Secret
Getting into the Secret
Pitt's First Speech
Pitt's First Majority
King William and his Dutch Guards
The Dutch War
The Debates from 1736 to 1742-3|
Grattan and Corry
Fox and Pitt
Sir Philip Francis and Mr. Pitt
Duration of Parliaments
Limiting the Peerage
The Chiltern Hundreds
The Hon. Charles Townshend
George the Fourth
Difference between Speaking and Publishing
Earl of Shaftesbury and James II
Both Rogue and Fool
America a Part of Kent
Sir Richard Hill
Duel between Pitt and Tierney
Orator and no Orator
Bishop of Llandaff
Origin of Parliaments.
THE origin or first institution of Parliament, is so far hidden in the dark ages of antiquity as not to be very easily or distinctly traced. The word Parliament was first applied to general assemblies by King Pepin of France, in the year 706. In the reigns of the first kings of France, justice was generally administered by the king in person, assisted by counsellors of his own selection and appointment. Pepin being obliged to go to Italy, and apprehensive that his subjects might suffer for want of justice in his absence, instituted a Parliament, composed of several of the wisest and greatest persons of the kingdom, who were appointed to meet twice a year for the decision of all suits which might be brought before them. Although designed but for a temporary purpose, this institution was found of so much public convenience that it was adopted as part of the permanent frame of government, and subsisted under various modifications down to the great revolution of 1789. lts functions were always, however, strictly of an executive order; nor had it, otherwise than by very indirect operation, the power of legislation. What gave it this power, and rendered it in some sense a barrier betwixt the prerogatives of the crown and the liberties of the people, was a rule of great antiquity, that every edict, ordinance, or declaration of the king and council, must be enrolled in this court before it could have the force of a law; so that though it could not originate good laws, it had at least the power of putting a negative on bad ones.
In England, too, where the appellation of Parliament is considered as so peculiarly applicable to the legislature of the country, it was long exclusively applied to an assembly of select persons, who met at stated periods, and acted as council, or assessors to the king in the administration of justice. As far as legislative powers were allowed to the crown, without the assent of a more general assembly, the king, in his Parliament or council, seems to have assumed such powers; but its chief functions were still strictly executive. The legislature of England, as it has existed in later times, arose out of occasional communings between the king and council, and certain persons invited to represent the people, for the purpose of treating of the common weal. The king summoned the latter to meet him in his Parliament; and when such meetings, in the process of time, expanded into a complete representative system, the name of Parliament naturally attached itself to the whole united body of King, Lords (or Council), and Commons.
In order to be in full possession of the legislative history of England, we must, however, go farther back than the introduction of the term Parliament, in either the one sense or the other. It was an importation of the Norman conquest; and long before that period, the nation had its great councils in which all matters of importance were debated and settled; a practice which seems to have been universal among the northern nations, particularly the Germans; and carried by them into all the countries of Europe, which they overran at the dissolution of the Roman empire. In England, this general council had been held, immemorially, under the several names of michel synoth, or 'great council;' michel gemote, or 'great meeting;' and more frequently wittenagemote, or 'the meeting of the wise men.' It was regularly convened at the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, and occasionally at other times, as difficult circumstances or other exigencies might require. Who were the constituted members of this supreme tribunal, has long been a subject of debate; and the dissertations to which it has given rise, have only contributed to involve it in greater obscurity. It has been pretended, that not only the military tenants had a right to be present, but that the ceorls, or husbandmen, the lowest class of freemen, also attended by their representatives, the borshelders of the tythings. The latter part of the assertion has, however, been made without a shadow of evidence, and the former is built on very fallacious grounds. It is, indeed, probable, that in the infancy of the Anglo-Saxon states, most of the military retainers may have attended the public councils; yet even then, the deliberations were confined to the chieftains, and nothing remained for the vassals but to applaud the determinations of their lords. In later times, when the several principalities were united into one monarchy, the recurrence of these assemblies, thrice in every year within the short space of six months, would have been an insupportable burthen to the lesser proprietors; and there is reason to suspect, that the greater proprietors attended only when it was required by the importance of events, or by the vicinity of the court. The principal members seem to have been the spiritual and temporal thanes, who held immediately of the crown, and who could command the services of military vassals. It was necessary that the king should obtain the assent of all these to all legislative enactments; because without their acquiescence and support, it was impossible to carry them into execution.
There are many charters to which the signatures of the wittenagemote are affixed. They seldom exceed thirty in number, and never amount to sixty. They include the names of the king and his sons, of a few bishops and abbots, of nearly an equal number of ealdormen and thanes, and occasionally of the queen and one or two abbesses. The fideles, or vassals, who had accompanied their lords, are mentioned as looking on and applauding; but there exists no proof whatever, that they enjoyed any share in the deliberations. Indeed, the wittenagemote did not possess much independent authority; for as individually they were the vassals of the sovereign, and had sworn 'to love what he loved, and shun what he shunned,' there can be little doubt that they generally acquiesced in his wishes.
We have instances of this council meeting to order the affairs of the kingdom, to make new laws, and amend the old, as early as the reign of Ina, King of the West Saxons; Offa, King of the Murcians; and Ethelbert, King of Kent, in the several realms of the Heptarchy. After their union, King Alfred ordained for a perpetual usage, 'that these councils should meet twice in the year or oftener, if need be, to treat of the government of God's people; how they should keep themselves from sin, should live in quiet, and should receive right.' Succeeding Saxon and Danish monarchs held frequent councils of the sort, as appears from their respective codes of laws.
After the Norman conquest, all laws were invariably made in the name of the king. On some important occasions, however, the king exercised his powers of legislation with the advice and consent of persons styled his barons, convened by his command; and on others, he appears to have exercised those powers with the advice of a council, consisting of certain officers of the crown. The Great Charter of King John, is the earliest authentic document from which the constitution of that legislative assembly called the King's Great Council, or the Great Council of the Realm, can be with any degree of certainty collected.
According to that charter, whatever might be the authority for enacting other laws, such an assembly as there described, was alone competent to grant an extraordinary aid to the crown; and the persons composing that assembly were required to be summoned by the king's writ, either generally or personally, but both in reference to their holding lands in chief of the crown. No clear inference can be drawn from the charter, that any city or borough had any share in the constitution of this legislative assembly. The charter of John, however, does not appear to have been afterwards considered as having definitively settled that constitution, even for the purpose of granting extraordinary aids to the crown; for by a subsequent charter of Henry the Third, in the first year of his reign, the whole subject was expressly reserved for future discussion. It is a charter of this last monarch, passed in the ninth year of his reign, and not that of John, which ought, in fact, to be regarded as the great charter of British liberty. A grant of a fifteenth of the moveables of all persons in the kingdom, is declared in this instrument to have been made by all the persons by whom it was to be paid. The instrument does not indeed express in what manner the consent of all was given to the grant; but as that consent could not have been given by all personally, it must either have been given by persons representing, and competent to bind all, or the whole statement must be an audacious fiction. However the fact may stand, this charter distinctly recognised that principle on which the right of representation seems best to rest, that all who contribute to the support of the state, ought to have a voice in its councils.
In the 49th year of Henry the Third, when the country was torn by civil commotions, and that monarch was a prisoner in the hands of part of his subjects, a great council was convened in the king's name, consisting of certain persons, both of the clergy and laity, who were summoned individually by the king's special writ, according to the charter of King John, and of persons not so summoned, but required to attend in consequence of writs directed to the sheriffs of certain counties, and to the officers of certain cities and boroughs, and of the cinque ports, enjoining them to cause persons to be chosen as representatives of those counties, cities, boroughs, and cinque ports. This is the first authentic evidence we have of the existence of a legislative assembly in England, subsequent at least to the Conquest, consisting partly of persons summoned by special writ of the king, and partly of others elected by certain portions of the community to represent them.
The legislative assemblies of the country appear to have been generally, though not always, constituted nearly in the same manner as this of Henry III., until the time of Edward II., when they at length consisted, as they now consist, of two distinct bodies, having different characters, rights, and duties, and generally distinguished by the appellation of LORDS and COMMONS.
The lords were all summoned by special writs; but distinguished amongst themselves as spiritual and temporal. The rights of the lords spiritual, as members of the legislative assembly, were attached to temporal possessions which they enjoyed as belonging to their respective ecclesiastical dignities, and were transmitted with these possessions to their successors in these dignities; whilst the rights of the temporal lords, as members of the legislative assembly, were generally, though not universally, considered as hereditary, according to the terms and modes of their creation.
The commons consisted of those elected by the counties, cities, boroughs, and cinque ports, to represent them; and the king exercised a discretionary power of issuing precepts for such election, and could at pleasure increase or diminish the number of members.
The functions of the legislature, as thus constituted, were solemnly fixed by a declaratory statute of the 15th of Edward II., and confirmed by an ordinance of Richard II. in the fifth year of his reign. It was by the former declared, that 'all matters which were to be established for the estate of the king or his heirs, and for the estate of the realm and the people, should be treated, accorded, and established in parliament by the king, and by the assent of the prelates, earls, and barons, and the commonalty of the realm, according as it had been theretofore accustomed.'
Although the right of 'the commonalty of the realm' to a share in the national legislature, was thus expressly declared, a right which they could not, of course, exercise in their aggregate capacity, but must do by a representative body, the constitution of that body remained extremely imperfect, as long as the king retained the power of adding, at his pleasure, to the number of places which were to return members. Yet this power the kings of England continued to exercise long after the days of the Edwards and Richards, and even down to a very late period. It was not, indeed, until the union with Scotland, that this power could be considered as virtually done away by the terms of the compact which united the two kingdoms, and brought them under one legislature; to which each was to send a stipulated proportion of members.
The senate of Rome exercised no legislative power, but appointed judges to determine processes, selected either from among the senators or knights. It also appointed governors of provinces, and disposed of the revenues of the Commonwealth. The whole sovereign power did not, however, reside in the senate, since it could not elect magistrates, make laws, or decide on war or peace, without consulting the people. In their office, the senators were the guardians of religion; they disposed of the provinces as they pleased; they prorogued the assemblies of the people, appointed thanksgivings, nominated their ambassadors, distributed the public money. and, in short, had the management of every political or civic office in the republic.
When Romulus first instituted the senate, it consisted of an hundred members, to whom he afterwards added an equal number, when the Sabines had migrated from Rome. Tarquin the Ancient increased the number of senators to three hundred, and at this number it continued fixed for a long time; but afterwards it fluctuated greatly, and was increased first to seven hundred, and then to nine hundred, by Julius Caesar, who filled the senate with men of every rank and order. Under Augustus, the senators amounted to a thousand, but this number was reduced and fixed at six hundred.
The rank of a senator was always bestowed upon persons of merit. The monarchs had the privilege of choosing the members; and after the expulsion of the Tarquins, it was one of the rights of the consuls, till the election of the censors, who from their office seemed most capable of making choice of men whose character was irreproachable, whose morals were pure, and relations honourable. Only particular families were admitted into the senate; and when the plebeians were permitted to share the honours of the state, it was then required that they should be born of free citizens. It was also essential that the candidates should be knights before their admission into the senate. They were to have attained the age of twenty-five years, and to have previously passed through the inferior offices of quaestor, tribune of the people, edile, praetor, and consul.
The senate always met on the 1st of January for the inauguration of the new consuls; and in every month there were three days on which it generally met, namely, the kalends, nones, and ides; it also met on extraordinary occasions, when called together by consul, tribune, or dictator.
To render the decrees of the Roman senate valid and authentic, a certain number of members were requisite, and such as were absent without sufficient cause, were fined. In the reign of Augustus, four hundred members were requisite to make a senate; and nothing was transacted before sunrise or after sunset.
The dignity of a Roman senator could not be supported without the possession of 80,000 sesterces, or about £7000 English money; and, therefore, such as squandered away their money, and whose fortunes were reduced below this sum, were generally struck out of the list of senators. This regulation was not made in the first ages of the republic, when the Romans boasted of their poverty. The senators were not permitted to follow any trade or profession.
The Roman senators were distinguished from the rest of the people by their dress; they wore the laticlave or half-boots of a black colour, with a crescent or silver buckle in the form of a C; but this last honour was confined only to the descendants of those hundred senators who had been elected by Romulus, as the letter C seems to imply.
Wages of Members of Parliament.
On the first institution of the House of Commons, the members appear to have received wages for attending their duties as senators. In the fourteenth year of the reign of Edward the Second, certain tenants in ancient demesne, claimed to be exempt from paying wages to the knights of the shires, 'for as much as they and their ancestors, tenants of the same manor, had from time immemorial been always exempted by custom from the expenses of knights sent by the community of their county to the Parliaments of the king and his royal progenitors.'
The wages of the knights, citizens, and burgesses were levied by virtue of the king's writ, before any Act of Parliament was made to regulate the expenses. In the writ, the sheriffs were ordered to levy four shillings a day for each knight, and two shillings a day for each citizen and burgess, during the time of their attendance in Parliament. The first statute for levying the expenses of knights coming to Parliament, was enacted in the reign of Richard the Second, and was in confirmation of the common law, the words of the statute being 'That the said levying be made as it hath been used before this time.'
James the First, who was more anxious to stretch the royal prerogative, than to exercise it justly, had no sooner been seated on the English throne, than he thought fit to interfere in the election of members of the House of Commons. In the year 1604, there was a contested election for the county of Buckingham, between Goodwin and Fortescue. The House of Commons declared Goodwin duly elected, when the Lords desired a conference. So unusual an interference with the privileges of the House of Commons excited much surprise, and they demanded on what ground it was claimed. The Lords ascribed the interference to the king; on which the Commons presented an address to him, begging his majesty to be tender of their privileges.
The king insisted upon their holding a conference with the Judges, if they would not with the Lords; the Commons answered, they were ready to confer with the Lords on any proper subject, where their privilege was not concerned. The alleged reason of the king's interference was, that he conceived his advice, not to elect any outlaw, was despised by the House declaring Goodwin duly elected.
The Commons, attended by the Speaker, waited on the king, and informed him that Goodwin was duly returned; that his outlawries were only for debt; and that he had sat in several Parliaments since the outlawry. The king insisted upon a conference between the Commons and the judges; and that the result should be reported by the House to the Privy Council. The Commons proposed to make a law that no outlawed person hereafter should sit in the House; but this not satisfying the king, they meanly consented to the conference, and afterwards to a proposal on the part of the king, that neither Goodwin, nor Fortescue should sit in the House, but that a new writ should be issued. Goodwin voluntarily resigned his seat, and thus the arbitrary monarch triumphed.
The right of petitioning Parliament, though often invaded, has never been wholly subverted; and it is one of the most wholesome restraints against arbitrary measures that the constitution has authorized. On some occasions, however, the exercise of this right has been carried to a ridiculous extent, particularly in the stormy reign of Charles the First, when petitions out of number, from vast bodies of the people assembled throughout the land, were presented to the House of Commons, stating the resolution of the parties subscribing, 'to live and die in defence of the privileges of Parliament.' These petitions were from counties, cities, towns, parishes, and various trades, including the Porters, who alone, it is said, amounted to fifteen thousand. The apprentices also petitioned to the same effect; as did, at last, even the beggars. Another strong symptom of the revolutionary spirit abroad, was that the women were generally seized with the mania of politics; they also produced their petition, and discovered, in a multitude of instances, minds yet more agitated than those of the men.
This was in 1643, when between two and three thousand women, with white silk ribbons in their hats, and headed by a brewer's wife, proceeded to the House of Commons, with a petition for peace, which they got presented. The Commons returned an immediate answer, 'that the House was no enemy to peace, and doubted not, in a short time, to answer the ends of their petition; and desired them to return to their habitations. The women were not satisfied with this answer, and remained about the House, until their numbers increased to about five thousand; there were also among them several men, who were disguised in women's clothes, and excited them to tumult.
The trained bands thinking to frighten them fired with powder upon which the women cried out, 'Nothing but powder,' and began to pelt them with brickbats: nor was it until the trained bands loaded with ball, and killed one person and wounded several others, that they succeeded in dispersing these female petitioners. Clarendon and Echard say the women were principally the wives of respectable inhabitants; but Rushworth says, what is most probable, that they were generally of the 'meaner sort.'
In September, 1648, a petition was presented to the House of Commons for the release of Captain Bray, Sawyer, Banck, and Lockyer, who were at that time in prison; and in May following the women petitioned to the same effect. Their petition, or remonstrance, which is a very curious and spirited document, thus commenced:
'TO THE SUPREME AUTHORITY OF ENGLAND, THE COMMONS ASSEMBLED IN PARLIAMENT.
The humble petition of divers well-affected women of the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, Hamlets and parts adjacent, all affecters and approvers of the petition of Sept. 11, 1648,
SHEWETH, - THAT since we are assured of our creation in the image of God, and of an interest in Christ, equal unto men, as also of a proportionable share in the freedom of this commonwealth, we cannot but wonder and grieve that we should appear so despicable in your eyes, as to be thought unworthy to petition your honourable House.
'Have we not an equal interest with the men of this nation, in those liberties and securities contained in the petition of right, and other good laws of the land? Are any of our lives, limbs, liberties, or goods to be taken from us, more than from men, but by due process of law, and conviction of twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood?
'And can you Imagine us to be so sottish or stupid as not to perceive, or not to be sensible, when daily those strong defences of our peace and welfare are broken down and trod under-foot by force and arbitrary power?'
The petitioners then urge the release of the prisoners, declaring that they have as much hopes of the House of Commons, 'as of the unjust judge, mentioned Luke 18, to obtain justice, if not for justice sake, yet for importunity.' This singular remonstrance thus concludes:
'Nor shall we be satisfied, however you deal with our friends, except you free them from under their present extrajudicial imprisonment and force upon them; and give them full reparation for their forceable attachment, and leave them from first to last to be proceeded against by due process of law, and give them respect from you, answerable to their good and faithful service to the commonwealth.
'Our houses being worse than prisons to us, and our lives worse than death, the sight of our husbands and children matter of grief, sorrow, and affliction to us, until you grant our desires: and therefore, if ever you intend any good to this miserable nation, harden not your hearts against petitioners: nor deny us in things evidently just and reasonable, as you would not be dishonourable to all posterity.'
Oliver Cromwell first distinguished himself in the House of Commons in 1639, when Charles the First made an ill-judged attack on the Earl of Bedford, respecting the drainage of the fens. Cromwell spoke and acted with such superior ability and effect on this occasion, that he received the appellation of 'Lord of the Fens;' and Hampden, from that time, pronounced him one that would 'sit well at the mark.'
In the Long Parliament, Cromwell represented the county of Cambridge, and was a member of one of the forty committees into which the house was at that time divided and subdivided. Of his personal appearance, and the respect which his talents inspired in the house, Sir Philip Warwick, a royalist contemporary, gives the following curious description:
'The first time,' writes Sir Philip, 'I ever took notice of him was in the beginning of the Parliament held in November, 1640, when I vainly thought myself a courtly young gentleman (for we courtiers valued ourselves much upon our good clothes). I came into the house one morning, well clad, and perceived a gentleman speaking, whom I knew not very ordinarily apparelled; for it was a plain made cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by an ill country tailor; his linen was plain, and not very clean; and I remember a speck or two of blood upon his little band, which was not much larger than his collar: his hat was without a hatband. His stature was of a good size; his sword stuck close to his side; his countenance swollen and reddish; his voice sharp and untuneable; and his eloquence full of fervour, for the subject matter would not bear much of reason, it being in behalf of a servant of Mr. Prynne's, who had dispersed libels against the queen for her dancing, and such like innocent and courtly sports; and he aggravated the imprisonment of this man by the council table unto that height, that one would have believed the very government itself had been in great danger by it. I sincerely profess it lessened much my reverence unto at great council, for he was very much harkened unto. And yet I lived to see this very gentleman, whom, out of no ill-will to him, I thus describe, by multiplied good successes, and by real, though usurped, power (having had a better tailor, and more converse among good company) in my own eye, when for six weeks together I was a prisoner in his sergeant's hands, and daily waited at Whitehall, appear of a great and majestic deportment, and comely presence.'
Of the warmth with which Cromwell conducted himself in the House, Lord Clarendon mentions another remarkable instance. In a committee on an enclosure business, he opposed himself to Lord Kimbolton, and behaved most intemperately, 'ordering the witnesses and petitioners in the method of proceeding, and enlarging upon what they said with great passion.' When the chairman endeavoured to preserve order, by speaking with authority, Cromwell accused him of being partial, and discountenancing the witnesses; and when, as Lord Clarendon, who was himself the chairman, relates, Lord Kimbolton, upon any mention of matter of fact, desired to be heard, and with great modesty related what had been done, Mr. Cromwell did answer and reply upon him with so much indecency and rudeness, and in language so contrary and offensive, that every man would have thought, that as their natures and measures were as opposite as was possible, so was it their interest could never have been the same. In the end, his whole carriage was so tempestuous and his behaviour so insolent, that the chairman found himself obliged to reprehend him, and to tell him, if he proceeded in the same manner, he would presently adjourn the committee, and the next morning complain to the House of him.'
On another occasion, when Cromwell had spoken warmly in the House, Lord Digby asked Hampden who he was? Hampden is said to have answered, 'That sloven you see before you, hath no ornament in his speech; but that sloven, I say, if ever we should come to a breach with the king, (which God forbid) in such a case, I say, this sloven will be the greatest man in England.'
Dissolving the Long Parliament.
When the successes of Cromwell in his Scottish campaign, had fired him with the ambition of obtaining absolute power, and he had calculated the probable consequence of a man taking 'upon him to be a king,' his first step was to dissolve the Long Parliament. He accordingly repaired to the House, when sitting, with a military force, and after addressing the members in the following speech, turned them out of doors.
'It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which ye have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice. Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government. Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would, like Esau, sell your country for a mess of pottage; and like Judas, betray your God for a few pieces of money.
Is there a single virtue now remaining among you? Is there one vice which you do not possess? You have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your god. Which of you has not bartered away your conscience for bribes? Is there a man among you that hath the least care for the good of the commonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes, have ye not defiled this consacred place, and turned the Lord's temple into a den of thieves? By your immoral principles and wicked practices, ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You, who were deputed here by the people to get their grievances redressed, are yourselves become their greatest grievance. Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this house; and which, by God's help, and the strength he hath given me, I am now come to do. I command you, therefore, upon the peril of Your lives, to depart immediately out of this place. Go get you out; make haste! ye venal slaves, begone;' then turning to one of his followers, he added, 'take away that shining bauble, and lock up the doors:'
It is a degrading instance of the subserviency of the public journals of that day, to find this tyrannical act thus smothered over in the Mercurius Politicus, the authorized gazette of the time.
'Westminster, April 20. The lord general delivered in Parliament divers reasons wherefore a present period should be put to the sitting of this Parliament; and it was accordingly done, the Speaker and the members all departing. The grounds of which proceeding will (it is probable) be shortly made public.'
The following remarkable account of the economy with which members of Parliament were formerly elected, is taken from a MS. of J. Harrington, Esq. of Kelston, in Somersetshire. It is dated 1646, and is called. 'A note of my BATH business about the Parliament.'
'Saturday, December, 1646, went to Bath, and dined with the mayor and citizens; conferred about my election to serve in Parliament, as my father was helpless and ill able to go any more. Went to the George Inn at night, met the bailiffs, and desired to be dismissed from serving; drank strong beer and metheglin; expended about three shillings; went home late, but got excused, as they entertained a good opinion of my father.
'Monday, December 28, went to Bath; met Sir John Horner; we were chosen by the citizens to serve for the city. The mayor and citizens conferred about Parliament business. The mayor promised Sir John Horner and myself a horse a piece, when we went to London to the Parliament, which was accepted of: and we talked about the synod and ecclesiastical dismissions. I am to go again on Thursday, and meet the citizens about all such matters, and take advice thereon.
'Thursday, 31, went to Bath; Mr. Ashe preached. Dined at the George Inn, with the mayor and four citizens; spent at dinner six shillings in wine.
|Laid out in victuals at the George Inn||11s. 4d.|
|Laid out in drinking||7 2|
|Laid out in tobacco and drinking vessels||4 4|
Jan. 1, my father gave me four pounds to bear my expenses at Bath.
'Mr. Chapman, the mayor, came to Kelston, and returned thanks for my being chosen to serve in Parliament, to my father, in the name of all the citizens. My father gave me good advice, touching my speaking in Parliament, as the city should direct me. Came home late at night from Bath much troubled thereat, concerning my proceeding truly for men's good report, and my own safety.
'Note. I gave the city messenger two shillings for bearing the mayor's letter to me. Laid out in all, three pounds seven shillings for victuals, drink, and horse hire, together with divers gifts.'
As a contrast to the singular economy of the Bath election, in 1646, it may not be amiss to subjoin the following list of 'charges Of ONE DAY'S EXPENSES at a small POT HOUSE at Ilchester, in the contest for the county of Somerset, in 1813.'
|353 bottles rum and gin at||6s. £105 18 0|
|57 bottles French brandy at||10s. 6d. 29 18 6|
|514 gallons beer at||2 8 68 18 8|
|792 dinners at||2 6 99 0 0|
|£304 17 2|
No Liberty, No Subsidy.
In the first session of the Scottish Parliament after the accession of Queen Anne, a very remarkable struggle took place between the court and opposition parties. The House having first recognised her majesty's title to the crown, proceeded to pass certain acts for securing the liberty and freedom of the nation; to all of which, except that known by the name of the Act of Security, her majesty's commissioner, the Duke of Queensberry, gave the royal assent. The rejected Act was, however, deemed the most important of the whole, and the House determined to refuse all supplies until it should be conceded. On the 5th of Dec. 1703, a motion being made for the first reading of an Act of Supply, a hundred voices were instantly raised against it. Some called out for the royal assent to the Act of Security; others demanded whether the Parliament met for nothing else than to drain the nation of money, to support those who designed to betray and enslave it? After much altercation, it was at length moved, that the sense of the House should be taken, whether they should proceed first to overtures for Liberty, or a Subsidy? The court party endeavoured to oppose this proceeding, but their voices were drowned by vociferations of Liberty or No Subsidy. The Earl of Roxburgh declared, that if there was no other way of obtaining so natural and undeniable a privilege of the House as a vote, they would demand it with their swords in their hands. The lord commissioner perceiving at length that the opposition was too formidable to be withstood consented that the Bill for a Subsidy should continue to lie on the table, and that the House should, on the morrow, proceed to consider of the 'Overtures for Liberty.' When the morrow came, however, the first thing his grace did, was to call for such acts as he was empowered to pass into laws, and after giving them the royal assent, he adjourned the House.
One of the acts for liberty which had previously passed in this Parliament, was an Act for 'approving, ratifying, and confirming perpetually, an Act of Parliament, declaring it high treason to disown, quarrel, or impugn the dignity or authority of Parliament,' and the proposition gave rise to a very long and hot debate. When they came to be called, for so the votes used to be taken in the Scottish Parliament, 'there fell,' says a contemporary record, 'the greatest rain that was ever seen come from the heavens, which made such a noise upon the roof of the Parliament House (which was covered with lead), that no voice could be heard, and the clerks were obliged to stop, whereupon, as soon as it ceased, Sir David Cuninghame of Milncraig took occasion to tell the House 'It was apparent that the heavens declared against their procedure.' This figure of oratory had, however, but little effect; for the Act was passed by a large majority.
Fletcher and Lord Stair.
The celebrated Fletcher of Salton brought before the Scottish Parliament, in 1705, a Scheme of Limitations for protecting the liberty of the nation, in which it was proposed, among other things, to enact, 'that no general indemnity or pardon for any transgression should be valid without consent of Parliament.'
The Earl of Stair was among those who opposed the measure. When Fletcher, in the course of his reply, came to justify this article, he thus indignantly alluded to his lordship: 'I wonder not,' said he, 'that this article should meet with an opponent in the noble lord; for it is only from the want of such an act as this, that the author of the massacre of Glencoe has not, long ere now, expiated the guilt of that bloody deed on the scaffold.'
It is a singular fact, that the day of Stair's death should have been the eighth of January, the anniversary of his signing the warrant for the massacre of Glencoe. He was found dead in his bed.
Law and Privilege.
In the beginning of the last century, there were great complaints of partiality and injustice in the election of members of Parliament, on the part of sheriffs of counties, and the returning officers of boroughs; and in the year 1703, the subject occasioned so serious a difference between the two houses, as obliged Queen Anne to prorogue the Parliament.
The case in which this occurred was the celebrated one of Ashby and White, relative to the borough of Aylesbury, where the return was made by four constables. It was believed that they had made a bargain with some of the candidates, and then managed the matter so as to be sure that the majority should be for the persons to whom they had engaged themselves. They first canvased the town, to know how the voters were inclined, and then resolved to find some pretext for disqualifying all such as were not likely to vote for their candidates.
Cases of this description had frequently occurred, and when petitions were presented to the House of Commons, they always decided in favour of the members thus returned, in a manner so barefaced, that the reproach of injustice in judging elections, excited in them no shame. It was not easy to find a remedy for such a crying abuse, although all parties in their turn complained of it. At last an action was brought against the constables of Aylesbury, at the suit of an inhabitant who had been always admitted to vote in former elections, but was rejected in the last election. This was tried at the assizes, and it was found there by the jury, that the constables had denied him a right, of which he was undoubtedly in possession. It was however moved in the Queen's Bench to quash all the proceedings in the matter, since no action did lie, or had ever been brought, upon that account. The judges, Powel, Gould, and Powis, were of opinion, that no hurt was done the man; that the judging of elections belonged to the House of Commons; that as this action was the first of its kind, so if it was allowed, it would bring on an infinity of suits, and put all the officers concerned in elections into great difficulties. Lord Chief-justice Holt, though alone, yet differed from the rest; he thought this was a matter of the greatest importance, both to the whole nation in general, and to every individual: he made a great difference between an election of a member, and a right to vote in it; the House of Commons were the only judges of the former, whether it was rightly managed or not, without bribery, fraud, or violence: but the right of voting in an election, was an original right founded either on a freehold of forty shillings a year in the county; or on burgage-land, or upon a prescription, or by charter in a borough; these were all legal titles - Acts of Parliament were made concerning them, and by reason of these, everything relating to those acts were triable in a court of law. His lordship spoke long and learnedly, and with some vehemence, upon the subject; but he was one against three, so that the order of the court went in favour of the constables. The matter was upon that brought before the House of Lords, by a Writ of Error; the cause was very fully argued at the bar, and the judges were ordered to deliver their opinions upon it: which they did very copiously. Chief-justice Trevor insisted much on the authority that the House of Commons had, to judge of all elections; from that he inferred that they only could judge who were the electors; petitions were often grounded on this, that in the poll some were admitted to vote, who had no right to it, and that others were rejected, who had a right; so that in such cases they were the proper judges of this right; and if they had it in some cases, they must have it in all. From this he inferred, that every thing relating to this matter was triable by them, and by them alone: if two independent jurisdictions might have the same cause brought before them, they might give contrary judgments in it; and this must breed great distraction in the execution of those judgments. To all this it was answered, that a single man who was wronged in this matter, had no other remedy but by bringing it into a court of law; for the House of Commons could not examine the right of every voter; if the man, for whom he would have voted, was returned, he could not be heard to complain to the House of Commons, since he could not make any exceptions to the return; so that he must bear his wrong, without a remedy, if he could not bring it into a court of law. A right of voting in an election, was the greatest of all the rights of an Englishman, since by that he was represented in Parliament; the House of Commons could give no relief to a man wronged in this, for any damages; they could only set aside one return, and admit of another; but this was no redress to him that suffered the wrong; it made him to be less considered in his borough, and that might be a real damage to him in his trade. Since this was a right inherited in a man, it seemed resonable that it should be brought, where all other rights were tried, into a court of law; the abuse was new, and was daily growing, and it was already swelled to a great height; when new disorders happen, new actions must lie, otherwise there is a failure in justice, which all laws abhor: practices of this sort were enormous and crying; and if the rule made in the Queen's Bench was affirmed, it would very much increase these disorders, by the indemnity that seemed to be thus given to the officers who took the poll. After a long debate, it was carried by a great majority to set aside the order in the Queen's Bench, and to give judgment according to the verdict given at the assizes; which judgment was accordingly executed, and the man was allowed damages and the costs of the suit. This gave great offence to the House of Commons, who passed very strong votes upon it, against the men of Aylesbury, as guilty of a breach of their privileges, and against all others who should for the future bring any such suits into courts of law; and likewise against all counsel, attorneys, and others, who should assist in any such suits. Notwithstanding all this, however, they did not think fit to send for the man who had sued, or rather in whose name the suit was carried on; but let the matter as to him fall, under a show of moderation and pity. The Lords on their part ordered the whole state of the case to be drawn up and printed, which was done with much learning and judgment; they also asserted the right that all the people of England had, to seek for justice in courts of law, upon all such occasions; and declared that the House of Commons, by their votes, struck at the liberties of the people, at the law of England, and at the judicature of the House of Lords; they farther ordered the lord-keeper to send a copy of the case, and their votes, to all the sheriffs of England, to be communicated to all the boroughs in their counties. The House of Commons were much provoked at this, but they could not hinder it; the thing was popular, and the Lords got great credit by the judgment they gave, which let the people of England see how they might be redressed for the future. Accordingly, five others of the inhabitants brought their actions against the constables, upon the same grounds. The House-of Commons looked on this proceeding as a great contempt of their votes, and voted it to be a breach of privilege; to which they added a new, and till then unheard-of crime, that it was contrary to the declaration that they had made. They accordingly sent their messenger for these five men, and committed them to Newgate, where they lay three months prisoners, it not being deemed expedient to make any application in their behalf to the House of Commons. Motions were at length made, in the interval between the Terms, for a Habeas Corpus; but the statute relating only to commitments by the royal authority, this did not lie within it. A Writ of Error was then suggested, to bring the matter before the Lords; but that was only to become at by petitioning the queen to order it. The Commons were alarmed at this, and made an address to the queen, setting forth, that they had passed all the moneybills, and therefore hoped her majesty would not grant the prayer of these petitioners. Ten judges agreed, that in civil matters a petition for a Writ of Error was a petition of right, and not of grace; two of them only were of another mind; it was therefore thought a very strange thing, which might have most pernicious consequences, for the House of Commons to desire the queen not to grant a petition of right, that being plainly a breach of law and of her coronation-oath. The House had also taken on them to affirm, that the writ did not lie; though it was clearly the work of the Judicature to declare, whether it lay or not, and that was unquestionably the right of the Lords. They only could determine that, the supplying the public necessities was a just consideration to be offered to the queen, as an argument to persuade her to act against law; as if they had pretended that they had bribed her to infringe the law, and to deny justice. The queen, in answer to their address, observed, that stopping proceedings at law, was a matter of such consequence, that she must consider well of it. This answer was thought so cold, that they returned her no thanks for it. The Commons carried their anger farther; they ordered the prisoners to be taken out of Newgate, and to be kept by their serjeant; they also ordered the lawyers and the solicitors to be taken into custody, for appearing in behalf of the prisoners. These were such strange and unheard-of proceedings, that by them the minds of all people were much alienated from the House of Commons. But the prisoners were under such management, and so well supported, that they would not submit nor ask pardon of the House; it was generally believed, that they were supplied and managed by Lord Wharton. They petitioned the House of Lords for relief; and the Lords resolved to proceed in the matter by sure and regular steps. They first came to some general resolutions; that neither House of Parliament could assume or create any new privilege that they had not formerly been possessed of; that subjects claiming their rights in a course of law, against those who had no privilege, could not be guilty of a breach of the privileges of either House; that the imprisoning the men of Aylesbury, for acting contrary to a declaration made by the House of Commons, was against law; that the committing their friends and their counsel for assisting them, in order to the procuring their liberty in a legal way, was contrary to law; and that the Writ of Error could not be denied without breaking the Magna Charta and the laws of England. These resolutions were communicated to the House of Commons at the conference. They made a long answer to them. In it they set forth, that the right of determining elections was lodged only with them, and that therefore they could only judge who had a right to elect; they only were the judges of their own privileges, the Lords could not intermeddle with them; they quoted very copiously the proceedings in the year 1575, upon an appeal brought against a member of their House; they said their prisoners ought only to apply to them for their liberty; and that no motion had ever been made for a Writ of Error in such a case. After this preliminary conference, the matter was, according to form, brought to a free conference, where the point was fully argued on both sides. The city and the nation in general were in favour of the Lords, who drew up a full representation of the whole affair, in an address to the queen, written in a firm and dignified tone, but with many severe reflections on the House of Commons. When this was presented to the queen, the business of the session being concluded, her majesty returned the following answer.
'My Lords, I should have granted the Writ of Error desired in this address, but finding an absolute necessity of putting an immediate end to this session, I am sensible there could have been no further proceedings upon that matter.'
The House of Lords looked on this as a clear decision in their favour; establishing the principle, that returning officers at elections, are answerable for their misconduct in a court of law; and that a vote of the House of Commons cannot screen them, if they deny any elector having a right to vote, the exercise of his privilege.
When the Assembly of Divines petitioned the House of Commons, that every presbytery or presbyterian congregation, that is, the pastor and the ruling elders, might have the power of excommunication, Whitelocke, a lawyer, strongly opposed the petition, and concluded one of his speeches in these words: 'The best excomunication is, for pastors, elders, and people, to excommunicate sin out of their own hearts and lives, to suspend themselves from all works of iniquity; this is a power which, when put in execution, through the assistance of the Spirit of God, will prevent all disputes about excommunication, and suspension from the sacrament.
Henry Lord Falkland having been brought into the House of Commons at a very early age, a grave senator objected to his youth, remarking, that 'he did not look as if he had sown his wild oats.' His lordship replied with great quickness, 'Then I am come to the properest place, where there are so many old geese to pick them up.'
Publishing the Debates.
It is remarkable, that one of the greatest and most daring infringements of the liberty of the press that ever was made, passed the two Houses of Parliament without a single dissentient voice, and with little public animadversion; this was the prohibition of printing the debates. In the year 1737, the house of Commons unanimously resolved, that it is a high indignity to, and a notorious breach of the privileges of this House, for any news-writer, in letters or other papers (as minutes, or under any other denomination), to or for any printer or publisher of any printed newspaper of any denomination, to presume to insert in the said letters or papers, or to give therein any account of the debates, or other proceedings of this House, or any committee thereof, as well during the recess, as the sitting of Parliament; and that this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offenders.' This resolution, so far from producing the effect anticipated, on the contrary tended still farther to excite public curiosity, while it rendered truth less attainable. It compelled the compilers of periodical publications, to adopt a covert method of giving the debates. The Gentlemans Magazine published their debates in the 'Senate of Lilliput,' under the names of Lilliput and Brobdignag; and the London Magazine gave a journal of the proceedings and debates in a political club, with Roman appellations. Each miscellany explained these fictitious titles, in advertisements affixed to the respective volumes.
After a very hot debate, in the course of which Ireton had let fall some very rude expressions respecting Denzil Hollis, the latter desired that he would walk out with him, and then told him 'that he insisted on his crossing the water immediately to fight him.' Ireton replied, 'that his conscience would not suffer him to fight a duel.' Hollis, greatly incensed, pulled him by the nose, observing, that 'since his conscience prevented him from giving men satisfaction, it ought to keep him from provoking them.'
Bishop Neile, when Prelate of Lincoln, and before he was translated to the See of Durham, was attacked by the House of Commons, for having, as they supposed, dissuaded the Lords from agreeing to a conference with the Commons on the subject of impositions, and for having used this expression, 'that the matter of imposition is a noli me tangere, and that it did not strike at a branch, but at the root and prerogative of the Imperial Crown.' A considerable discussion took place between the Houses on the subject, when it appeared that the bishop had used the words attributed to him; and there is a story told of him, which shows that they corresponded truly with his principles upon the subject of impositions by the crown. Waller, going to court, to see King James the First, at dinner overheard his majesty talking to Dr. Andrews, Bishop of Winchester, and Dr. Neile, Bishop of Durham. 'My lords,' said the king, 'cannot I take my subjects' money when I want it, without all this formality in Parliament?' The Bishop of Durham readily answered, 'God forbid, sir, but you should, you are the breath of our nostrils.' Whereupon the king turned, and said to the Bishop of Winchester, 'Well, my lord, what say you?' 'Sir,' replied the bishop, 'I have no skill to judge of Parliamentary cases.' The king answered, 'No put-offs, my lord, answer me presently.' 'Then, sir,' said Dr. Andrews, 'I think it lawful for you to take my brother Neile's money, for he offers it.'
Earl of Shaftesbury.
The Earlof Shaftesbury had been always very inveterate against Holland, and used constantly to conclude his speeches, in the House of Peers, on that subject, with delenda est Carthago, applying this celebrated sentence to that country; but before he took refuge there, he appealed to the magistrates for permission to do so, who answered his petition thus laconically: 'Carthago non adhuc abolita, comitem de Shaftesbury in recipere gremio suo recipere vult.'
The Septennial Act.
'The Septennial Bill,' says Coxe, 'was undoubtedly one of the most daring uses, or, according to the representations of its opponents, abuses of Parliamentary power, that ever was committed since the revolution; for it not only lengthened the duration of future Parliaments, but the members who had been elected for only three years, prolonged, of their own authority, the term of their continuance for four years more.' In the House of Lords, where it was proposed by the Duke of Devonshire, there were only thirty-six votes against it; and on being sent to the House of Commons, there was a majority of 264, against 121. Lord Somers, the constant friend of liberty, and the oracle of the revolution, who was confined by a fit of the gout at the time, declared to Lord Townsend, who waited on him, that he never approved the Triennial Bill, and always considered it the reverse of what it was intended, adding, 'that he thought the Septennial Bill would be the greatest support possible to the liberty of the country.'
The Hanoverian Succession.
On the day that the Hanoverian Succession Bill passed the House of Commons, Sir Arthur Owen Bart, Member for Pembrokeshire, and Griffith Rice, Esq., Member for Carmarthenshire, prevented the friends of the present royal family from being left in a minority, and thus secured the succession of the House of Hanover to the throne of these realms. It appears, that on the day on which the debate took place, Sir Arthur and Mr. Rice met accidentally in the lobby, when the Tory administration was stealing the question through the House at an early hour, and when many of the Whigs were absent. The House was about to divide, when one of the Whig members seeing a majority in favour of the House of Stuart, exclaimed that the whole was an infamous proceeding. Almost frantic, he immediately ran out of the House in search of some of his partizans, to give a turn in favour of the Elector of Hanover. Perceiving Sir Arthur and Mr. Rice in the lobby as he came out, he addressed them with much vehemence, and said, 'What do you mean, gentlemen, lounging here, when the Hanoverian Succession Bill is going to be thrown out?' 'When I heard that,' Sir Arthur used often to say in relating the anecdote. 'I made but one step into the House, and my voice made the number equal, for the bill. 117, and the Tories had no more. Mr. Rice, with great gravity coming after me, had the honour of giving the casting vote in favour of the Hanoverian succession.'
When the whole nation was inflamed with exaggerated accounts of injuries sustained by British merchants and seamen, from the rapacity and cruelty of the Spaniards, Lord Hardwicke opposed, in the cabinet, the pacific disposition of the prime minister; and in the House of Lords made so strenuous a speech for vigorous measures, that Walpole, who stood behind the throne' exclaimed to those around. 'Bravo, Colonel Yorke.'
'The style of his eloquence,' says Mr. Coxe, 'was more adapted to the House of Lords, than to the House of Commons. The tone of his voice was pleasing and melodious, his manner was placid and dignified. Precision of arrangement, closeness of argument, fluency of expression, elegance of diction, great knowledge of the subject on which he spoke, were his particular characteristics. He seldom rose into great animation, his chief aim was more to convince than to amuse, to appeal to the judgment rather than to the feelings of his auditors. He possessed a perfect command over himself, and his even temper was never ruffled by petulant opposition, or malignant invective.'
Holland and Hardwicke.
The Earl of Hardwicke and Lord Holland, though frequently in office together, seldom agreed in any measure, and not unfrequently opposed each other's bills from mere pique. Lord Hardwicke had opposed a bill of Lord Holland's in the Upper House, with some acrimony. This brought on a sarcasm from Lord Holland, then Mr. Fox, who upon a private bill of Sir F. B. Delaval's, enabling him to sell some estates for the payment of his debts, alluded very pointedly to Earl Hardwicke. After speaking for some time on the bill, he exclaimed, 'But where am I going? perhaps I shall be told in another place, that this is a money bill, and shall be contravened upon this ground. How can it be so, I know not; but this I know, that touch but a cobweb of Westminster Hall, and the old spider of the law is out upon you, with all his younger vermin at his heels.'
Effect of Manner.
'The Duke of Argyle,' says Lord Chesterfield. 'though the weakest reasoner, was the most pleasing speaker I ever heard in my life. He charmed, he warmed, he forcibly ravished the audience; not by his matter certainly, but by his manner of delivering it. A most genteel figure, a noble air, an harmonious voice, an elegance of style, and a strength of emphasis, conspired to make him the most affecting, persuasive, and applauded speaker I ever heard. I was captivated like others, but when I came home, and coolly considered what he had said, stripped of all those ornaments in which he had dressed it, I often found the matter flimsy, the arguments weak, and I was convinced of the power of these adventitious concurring circumstances, which it is ignorance of mankind to call trifling.'
In the session of Parliament, 1775, Mr. Bamber Gascoigne moved, that the Speaker's chaplain should preach before the House on the 30th of January, being the anniversary of Charles's martyrdom.
Lord Folkstone objected, that the observance of that day in the usual manner, was a direct attack on the Revolution, and the settlement of the House of Hanover, as well as blasphemy against our holy religion.
Mr. Gascoigne said, he had made the motion because an Act of Parliament ordered the day to be kept as a fast.
Mr. Byng remarked, that the act did not, however, order a sermon to be preached.
The Lord Mayor (John Wilkes) declared, that he was for the observance of the day, but in a very different manner from that proposed. He wished that it should be celebrated as a festival, not as a fast. The death of that enemy of our liberties, of that odious tyrant who was, to use the great Milton's words, ipso Nerone Neronior, was a sacrifice to the public justice of the country, and ought to be celebrated as the most glorious deed ever done in this or any other country; for without it, we should at this hour have had no constitution left, but have been the most abject slaves on the face of the earth.
The motion was, however, carried by a majority of 138 to 60.
The management of the House of Commons, as it is called, is a confidential department unknown to the Constitution, and not attached to any particular office in the administration, though generally joined either to that of Secretary of State, or Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In former times, the expense of managing the House of Commons was immersed under the head of secret service money; and the chief art consisted in distributing with policy among the pliant members who have no ostensible places, sums of money for their support during the session, besides contracts, lottery tickets, and other douceurs. The douceur generally varied from £500 to £1000, to each member.
In the memoirs of the Marchioness of Pompadour, there is a letter from an English minister to Cardinal Fleury, in which he gives a curious picture of the Parliament of that day. He says, 'I pension half the Parliament to keep it quiet. But as the king's money is not sufficient, they to whom I give none, clamour loudly for war. It would be expedient for your eminence to remit me three millions of French livres, in order to silence the barkers. Gold is a metal which here corrects all ill qualities in the blood. A pension of two thousand pounds a year, will make the most impetuous warrior in Parliament, as tame as a lamb.'
This anecdote furnishes a key to the mystical phrases of a minister's Planning a Parliament, or conducting a House of Commons, frequently made use of by historians, and particularly by Tindal, who speaks of ministers settling the plan of a new Parliament, and making 'elections go in the same track that they had laid out.'
Without coming to more recent times, there is a curious instance of the importance attached to managing a House of Commons, by first Mr. Fox, the Lord Holland. In 1754, on the death of Mr. Pelham, a negociation took place between the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Fox, in which the latter solicited the office of Secretary of State, with the management of the House of Commons annexed; but this the duke would not give up. Mr. Fox, however, had been so confident that his negociation with the duke would succeed, that while it was pending, he sent the following circular to his friends:
'The king has declared his intention to make me Secretary of State, and I (very unworthy, as I fear I am, of such an undertaking) must take the conduct of the House of Commons. I cannot, therefore, well accept the office, till after the first day's debate, which may be a warm one. A great attendance that day of my friends, will be of the greatest consequence to my future situation; and I should be extremely happy if you would, for that reason, show yourself amongst us then, to the great honour of,
'Dear Sir, yours,' &c. &c.
Although it is the usual practice of the ruling minister in the House of Commons, to send circulars to court members, requesting their early attendance, yet Mr. Fox's letter went so much beyond the usual manner, and so injudiciously betrayed his own aspiring, that it gave great offence. George Townshend, who was personally hostile to Fox, and was dragging his brother Charles into opposition to their uncle the Duke of Newcastle, merely on account of his forced connexion with Fox, determined to complain of the letter to Parliament.
Mr. Townshend selected the very day after Mr. Pitt's dismissal; when, under pretence of moving for a call of the House, he said, 'When a system was likely to be grafted on these treaties, unadopted and proscribed by the constitution, he wished the House should be full. Our ministers, indeed, had taken upon them to add to the usual respectable summons, not only the ministerial invitation, but an invitation of their own. This was an unconstitutional act of a minister as desirous of power as ever minister was, and who was willing to avail himself of his colleagues' friends, though not fond of owning their measures.'
Having read the letter, and descanted on it in harsh and studied periods, and condemned it with an awkward acrimony which defeated his own purpose, he continued: 'He did not know whose letter it was; he did not know that the first day of the session they were electing a minister. He thought he was called to express his duty to his king on the address; now he was uncertain whether the House was voting measures, or more people into place. He would advise the minister to make the constitution the rule of his conduct.'
Mr. Fox answered with great severity, that it was proper for the informer to acquaint the House who signed such a letter (though, said he, that is pretty well known), and to whom it was addressed; though he should not insist on this; 'but,' continued he, 'do not let this additional imprudence be imputed to me, that I should be thought to have addressed one to that gentleman. I hope, too, that it is not a necessary part of prudence, that when one writes to a gentleman, one should consider what figure that letter will make if shown. However, there was no undue influence in these letters; nor were they sent promisciuously, but to persons of great consideration. But the objectionable part proceeded from a false writing, for between the words conduct and House of Commons, other words, which I will not name, were accidentally omitted. Mr. Townshend allows me common sense; does he think, then, that I would say, conduct of the House of Commons? It is indeed very early to treat me as a minister; but I should be proud of his advice. Was showing this letter, behaving with the exactness of a gentleman? he believed the House would not deem it so. I may,' said he, 'have written a silly letter. I am sure one has been sillily addressed.'
The House did not ground any proceeding on the subject, and it was dropped without much further discussion.
From an authentic list of the subscribers to the lottery of 1769, it appears that 21,200 tickets were subscribed for by members of the House, or rather distributed among them at prime cost. when they were selling in the open market at forty shillings premium; so that a sum of no less than £42,400, may be said to have been thus expended in influencing the votes of the House.
Sir Robert Walpole is accused of having been more guilty of bribery than ministers in general. A well-known phrase is attributed to him, that 'every man had his price;' but he has also declared, that ministers were oftener tempted than tempting.
In a warm debate in the House of Commons, Sir Robert, who was standing next to Mr. Levison, said to him, 'You see with what zeal and vehemence these gentlemen oppose, and yet I know the price of every man in this house except three, and your brother is one of them.' This brother was Lord Gower, who soon, however, lessened the number of incorruptibles by his defection.
On another occasion, Sir Robert wanted to carry a question in the House of Commons, to which he knew there would be great opposition, and which was disliked by some of his dependents. As he was passing through the Court of Requests, he met a member of the contrary party, whose avarice he imagined would not reject a large bribe. He took him aside, and said 'Such a question comes on this day; give me your vote, and here is a bank bill Of £2000,' which he put into his hands. The member made him this answer:
'Sir Robert, you have lately served some of my particular friends; and when my wife was last at court, the king was very gracious to her, which must have happened at your instance. I should, therefore, think myself very ungrateful (putting the bank bill into his pocket) if I were to refuse the favour you are now pleased to ask me.'
When the borough of Wendover was in possession of Earl Verney, he allowed the tenants in general to live rent free, on condition of their voting for such gentlemen as he should nominate. In 1768, however, a Mr. Atkins, a lace manufacturer in the place, determined to carry the election against his lordship by a coup-de-main; and the electors preferring present gain to the advantage of living rent free, to the great astonishment of Earl Verney, returned Mr. Atkins and Sir Robert Darling, a former Sheriff of London.
This disobedience to his lordship's wishes was punished by the voters being instantly ejected from their houses, and obliged to take refuge in huts and tents; - where they remained for six months in all the penitence of sorrow, until a promise of good behaviour in future, restored, them to their dwellings.
The inhabitants keeping this severe treatment in remembrance, determined on retaliation. In 1784, Earl Verney fearing he would lose his election for the county, offered himself with Mr. Joliffe, as candidates for Wendover. The electors well knowing that the deranged state of his lordship's private affairs would very shortly oblige him to sell his property in the borough, took this opportunity of again putting up their suffrages to the highest bidder. One elector, to whom the principal management was confided, settled, that for a sum of £,6ooo two candidates should be chosen against his lordship's interest and influence. A gentleman was then employed to go down to the borough, and was met, according to previous appointment, by the electors, about a mile from the town. The electors asked the stranger where he came from? He replied, 'From the moon.' They then enquired, 'What news from the moon?' He replied, that he had brought from the moon £6ooo, to be distributed among them by the borough agent. The electors thus satisfied, and yielding to the all subsiding lunar influence, chose the candidates, and received their reward.
What is Corruption?
Mr. Beckford brought in a bill for preventing bribery and corruption at elections, in which was a clause to oblige every member to swear, on his admission to the house, that he had not, directly or indirectly, given a bribe to any elector. This clause was so universally opposed, as answering no other end but that of perjuring the members, that Mr. Beckford was compelled to withdraw it. Mr. Thurlow opposed this bill in a long speech, to which Mr. Beckford very smartly replied. 'The honourable gentleman,' said he, 'in his learned discourse, gave us first one definition of corruption, then he gave us another definition of it, and I think he was about to give us a third. Pray, does that gentleman imagine there is a single member of this house that does not know what corruption is?'
When Arthur Onslow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, had to pass a vote of censure on some justices for their misconduct at an election, his speech was so long and severe, that the morning it was printed Sir Charles Hanbury Williams complained to the Speaker of the printer having made a grievous mistake. 'Where?' inquired the Speaker, 'I examined the proof-sheet myself.' Sir Charles replied, 'Why, in the conclusion he makes you say, more might have been said; now you surely must have written it, less might have been said.'
This celebrated Speaker of the House of Commons, for the purpose of relaxing himself from the multiplied cares of his office, was in the habit of passing his evening at a respectable country public-house, which for nearly a century was known by the name of the Jew's Harp House, situated about a quarter of a mile north of Portland Place. He dressed himself in plain attire, and preferred taking his seat in the chimney-corner of the kitchen, where he took part in the vulgar jokes and ordinary concerns of the landlord, his family, and customers. He continued this practice for a year or two, and much ingratiated himself with his host and his family, who not knowing his name, called him 'the gentleman;' but, from his familiar manners, treated Win as one of themselves. It happened, however, one day that the landlord was walking along Parliament Street, when he met the Speaker in state going up with an address to the throne; and, looking narrowly at the chief personage, he was astonished and confounded at recognising in the features of the gentleman his constant customer. He hurried home, and communicated the extraordinary circumstance to his wife and family, all of whom were disconcerted at the liberties which at different times they had taken with so important a person. In the evening Mr. Onslow came as usual, with his holiday face and manners, and prepared to take his usual heat, but found everything in a state of peculiar preparation, and the manners of the landlord and his wife changed from indifference and familiarity to form and obsequiousness. The children were not allowed to climb upon him, and pull his wig, as heretofore, and the servants were kept at a distance. He, however, took no notice of the change; but finding that his name and rank had by some means been discovered, he paid the reckoning, civilly took his departure, and never visited the house afterwards.
Earl of Chatham.
When Mr. Pitt, first Earl of Chatham, made his debut in the House of Commons, he was, as everyone knows, a cornet in the army. A country gentleman, who had been struck with his eloquence, told Sir Robert Walpole that he thought it would be to his interest to make young Pitt a captain. 'My dear sir,' said Sir Robert, 'to let you see how much I think of you, if you will make him my friend, I will give him a regiment.'
Sir William Young having once interrupted Mr. Pitt while speaking, with the cry of 'Question, question,' he paused; then fixing on Sir William a look of ineffable contempt, he exclaimed, 'Pardon me. Mr. Speaker, this agitation, but whenever that honourable member calls for the question, I fancy I hear the knell of my country's ruin.'
On another occasion, immediately after Mr. Pitt had finished a speech in the house, he walked out, as usual, with a very slow step. Silence continued until the door was opened to let him into the lobby, when a member started up, saying, 'I rise to reply to the right honourable member.' Mr. Pitt immediately turned back; when the orator instantly sitting down, he hobbled to his seat, repeating the verses of Virgil :
'Ast Danaum progenes, Agamemnoniaeque phalanges, Ut videre virum, fulgentiaque arma per umbras, Ingenti trepidare metu-pars vertere retro, Seu quondam petiere rates, pars tollere vocem Exiguam, - inceptus clamor frustratur hiantes.'
Then, placing himself on his seat, he exclaimed, 'Now let me hear what the honourable member has to say to me or to the house.' The member was silent, and the House, instead of laughing at his embarrassment, were awed into pity.
When the Prussian subsidy, an unpopular measure, was discussed in the House of Commons, Mr. Pitt justified it with infinite address, insensibly subduing his audience until a murmur of approbation was heard from every part of the House. Availing himself of this moment, he placed himself in an attitude of stern defiance, but perfect dignity, and exclaimed in his loudest tone, 'Is there an Austrian among you? If so, let him stand forth and reveal himself.'
Mr. Moreton, the Chief-justice of Chester, speaking in the House of Commons, made use of the phrase, 'King, Lords, and Commons, or,' directing his eyes towards Mr. Pitt, 'as that right honourable member would call them, "Commons, Lords, and King." Mr. Pitt rose with great deliberation, and called to order. 'I have,' he said, 'frequently heard in this House doctrines which have surprised me; but now my blood runs cold. I desire the words of the honourable member may be taken down.' The clerk of the House wrote down the words. 'Bring them to me,' said Mr. Pitt, in a voice of thunder. By this time Mr. Moreton was frightened out of his senses. 'Sir,' he said, addressing himself to the Speaker, 'I am sorry to have given offence to the right honourable gentleman or to the House. I meant nothing. King, Lords, and Commons; Lords, King, and Commons; Commons, Lords, and King; tria juncta inno. I meant nothing! Indeed I meant nothing.' Mr. Pitt then rose and said, I do not wish to push the matter farther. The moment a man acknowledges his error, he ceases to be guilty. I have a great regard for the honourable member, and as an instance of that regard, I give him this advice, that whenever he means nothing, he will say nothing.'
Lord Chatham. when minister, was so delicate on the subject of his measures, that his nearest friends frequently went down to the House of Commons ignorant of the question to be proposed. On being remonstrated with on this subject, he said, 'he always trusted to the utility of his measures, and if his friends did not see it in that light, he did not want their support.'
Indeed, Lord Chatham, was so conscious of his own independence as a minister, that being one day told in the House of Lords of the strength of his majorities, he vehemently replied, 'I know of no majority but what the sense of the House occasionally gives me. If there are any other majorities, they belong to the Duke of Newcastle, and I trust he has come honestly by them.'
Chatham and Holland.
Mr. Pitt. the first Lord Chatham, when in the House of Commons, speaking one day very much in favour of a particular bill, concluded with saying, 'that he thought so highly of it in all its points, that he should not desire any other epitaph on his tombstone than to be remembered as the author of this bill.'
Lord Holland, then Mr. Fox, speaking in reply, began by observing, 'That though he had screwed up his mind to the utmost pitch of attention, in order to catch what fell from so exalted a character, in aid of his understanding, yet he was free to confess he could bring no single ray of conviction to his mind in favour of it. As to what the honourable gentleman says about requiring no other epitaph but that of being the author of this bill, I should be much amazed at it, did I not know from long experience, that great men are sometimes the worst calculated to decide upon their own characters; and, indeed, I have now a case which occurs to my recollection, and which is in point to what I have asserted; it is the case of that celebrated musician, Borelli. Although this great composer had previously established his fame in a number of beautiful compositions, yet when he was dying, so prejudiced was he to one particular trifle, the eccentric offspring of a fanciful moment, that he said he desired no other mention of his musical talents to be engraven on his tomb, than 'Here lies the author of "Corelli's jig."'
Mansfield on General Warrants.
Some years after the affair of general war was over, which rendered the name of Wilkes so memorable, Lord Mansfield one day spoke lightly of them in the House of Lords, as things which every tyro in Westminster Hall ought to know were illegal. 'And did you always think so?' said the Duke of Newcastle, very significantly. '0, yes,' says his lordship. 'Why, then, my lord,' replied his grace, 'I always misunderstood you, for while I was minister, I thought you always said the contrary.'
Burke and Barre.
In the debate on the Spanish declaration respecting the seizure of Falkland Island, Mr. Burke was particularly violent in his reprobation of ministers, whose conduct he declared fell nothing short of treason to their country. While declaiming in this strain, the members on the ministerial benches affected to show their indifference to his opinion by the most marked signs of inattention; talking and laughing among themselves, moving backwards and forwards, and thus keeping up a continued noise and confusion. Mr. Burke was, at length, obliged to pause, and sit down for a short time. When he got up again, he thus indignantly resumed his speech :
'Is this House so irregular, so totally lost to decency and good manners, that I cannot be heard when I am speaking to a question of the very last importance to these kingdoms? Are the ears of this assembly to be wilfully misled from giving attention to me when I am arguing on a point of such a nature that there must be blood, I say blood, to atone for the misconduct of those who transacted this dark affair? The day may not be immediately at hand; but it cannot, it must not be at a very great distance; it will come, when the lives of some concerned in this business must make atonement to this injured nation.'
The ministers and their retainers were awed into silence by the solemnity of this admonition, and during the remainder of his speech, Mr. Burke had no reason to complain of want of attention in his auditors. A denunciation which came with dignity from the lips of Burke, had, however, a very different effect when echoed by others of the same party; nor were the ministerial members without some apology for giving way to their laughing propensities, when Colonel Barre, wishing to improve on Burke's call for blood, thus curiously made out that it was blood for blood which was wanted.
'Sir, we are stabbed to the heart; I feel it; you must feel it; all England must feel it. Shall it not then (i.e., our bleeding honour) be required at their hands? Yes, blood will have blood; and I hope England will, as an atonement, shed the blood of the traitors.'
Burke thought the day of retribution was not at a very great distance. Barre, still intent on enforcing the words of his friend, while in reality he was heaping ridicule upon them, by a sort of continued parody, concluded his harangue by a declaration to the same effect, which, from the oddity of its manner, gave occasion to another 'loud laugh' on the treasury bench.
'But,' said he, 'let me stop, not that I have no more to say. No. When the proper time comes, if I do not let you hear more, you may tell me of it.'
Rescue of Lord North.
During the dispute between the House of Commons and the magistrates of the city (March, 1771), respecting the right assumed by the latter, of opposing the execution, within their jurisdiction, of warrants issued by the Speaker for breach of privilege; the House was daily surrounded by large mobs, who maltreated, in the grossest manner, every member they could recognise as belonging to the ministerial party. Lord North narrowly escaped with his life. As soon as his carriage drove in sight, it was assailed with stones and rubbish from all sides; many attempts were made to overturn it; and, at last, on its stopping, the mob pulled open the door, and dragged his lordship into the footway, amidst the most savage yells. Here he would, in all probability, have fallen a victim to their fury, had it not been for the intrepidity of Mr. Jenkinson (afterwards Earl of Liverpool) and Sir William Meredith (one of the popular party), who, at the hazard of their own personal safety, effected his rescue. His lordship, on reaching his seat in the House, acknowledged that but for the interference of these gentlemen, he must have been demolished. A committee having been afterwards appointed to inquire into the cause of these riots, the Hon. Captain Phipps, in the course of an animated speech on the subject, thus sarcastically alluded to Lord North's adventure.
'The ministerial champions,' said he, 'are never aroused but when danger approaches themselves. In vain did we call upon them to inquire into the causes of the riots in St. George's Fields, at Brentford, and other places. The safety of the public is to them a matter of no moment provided they can only enjoy their places, their pensions, and their Contracts, in ease and security; they are as ready to wink at domestic tumults as foreign encroachments. The same spirit which dictated the relinquishment of our right to Falkland Island, and the Manilla ransom, occasioned the sacrifice of the national police. But now the evil comes home to themselves; riot knocks at the door, and will not suffer them to divide without dread and apprehension. Now may you mark out every enemy by the paleness of his cadaverous face, and the terror which shakes his frame. Where now is that blustering manner, that insulting tone, and that important attitude, which used to distinguish the minister? Oh, mortality, how frail art thou!
'His coward lips did from their colour fly; And that same eye, whose bend doth awe the senate, Did lose its lustre. I did hear him squeak; Aye, and that tongue of his, that bade the members Mark him, and write his speeches in their books, Alas ! it cry'd, give me your help, Sir William, As a sick girl. By heaven I it doth amaze me, A man of such a feeble temper should So get the start of the majestic senate, And bear the palm alone. Age! thou art shamed; England! thou hast lost thy breed of noble blood. But as for me, I'd rather be a Libyan, Than to repute myself a son of England, Under such hard conditions as this time Is like to lay upon us.'
Accuracy of Reporting.
Mr. Wedderburn, afterwards Lord Loughborough, was once asked whether he had really delivered in the House of Commons a speech which the newspapers ascribed to him. 'Why, to be sure,' said he, 'there are many things in that speech which I did say; and there are many more which I wish I had said.'
Influence Behind the Throne.
In the course of the debate (March, 1761) on the celebrated motion for the committal of Lord Mayor Crosby and Alderman Oliver to the Tower, for a breach of privilege, Alderman Townsend, one of the other members for the city, thus spiritedly alluded to a certain influence behind the throne, which was then supposed to direct the measures of government.
'Salus populi suprema lex esto, was long the maxim of the Roman Commonwealth, and I could wish that it were more attended to in this House. Were it the standard of our conduct, there would have been less occasion for this day's debate. The nation and its representatives would not stand in diametrical opposition; nor would the city of London find it necessary to set the Commons at defiance. Unfortunately for this country, too many of us are more assiduous to please female caprice, than to satisfy their constituents. Instead of endeavouring to deserve well of the public, they strive to deserve well of one woman, who has, during the present reign, governed this nation.'
Here several members called out, Name her! name her!
'Why, then,' continued Mr. Townsend, 'if I must name her, her name is AUGUSTA, PRINCESS DOWAGER OF WALES.'
Loud cries of 'Order, order,' interrupted the member for a few minutes; but resuming his speech, he thus proceeded: 'Sir, I am not in a humour to retract, or eat my words. I am not yet courtly enough to say and unsay things in a breath. I do aver, that for these ten years past, we have been governed by one woman, and that woman the Princess Dowager of Wales.'
Treating under False Colours.
In the beginning of the reign of George II., Mr. Spencer, father to the first Lord Spencer, was a candidate to represent St. Albans. The Duchess of Marlborough, who had a seat at that place, knowing that the inferior burgesses opposed Mr. Spencer, sent, on the morning of the day of election, for above a hundred of the voters, whom she addressed to the following purport. 'I congratulate you, gentlemen, on your opposition to Mr. Spencer, for though he is my grandson, I think him unfit to represent your ancient borough; I have provided a small collation, and I beg you will breakfast with me.' The invitation was accepted. Her grace took care they were well supplied with the strongest liquors. They got so immoderately intoxicated, that they could not stand. In the meantime, the hour of polling came on, and Mr. Spencer carried his election.
Abduction of Voters.
Admiral Sir George Pococke was once a candidate for Poole, but had many opponents among the voters. Sir George was then stationed at Plymouth, whence a ship was dispatched to put into Poole, as through stress of weather. This being effected on the day of election, the commanding officer prevailed on those electors who were Sir George's enemies, to take a glass on board, previous to the poll.
In the interim. the cable was slipped, and when the voters talked of going ashore, the ship was four leagues out at sea, the officers abusing the seamen for preventing so many honest gentlemen from voting according to their consciences. It was, however, too late to complain, for the election was carried in the admiral's favour.
The Retort Perplexing.
Sir Gilbert Elliot having observed, in the course of one of the violent debates Of 1771, that 'it was notorious there were some percons desirous of overturning the constitution,' Mr. Sawbridge replied, 'That it was too true there were some persons not only desirous, but very active in their measures, to overturn the constitution; that they were even open enough to avow their wishes; for not longer ago than the Sunday morning preceding, a ministerial member of that House had declared publicly, before more than twenty persons, that he hoped he should see the King of England land more absolute than the King of Prussia: that he had bought his constituents, and would sell them as he pleased; that his constituents had once the impudence to instruct him, but that he had . . . . . with their instructions.' On this, a number of members called out, Name hint, name hint,
Mr. Sawbridge said, he was under the orders of that House, and that if he was directed to name the member, he would very readily do so, and undertake to bring to the bar of the House a number of most respectable witnesses, to prove the charge.
This alarming proposition was, however, instantly overruled by a general cry of 'No', 'No,' from the ministerial benches.
Burke put to Flight.
Mr. Burke, on one occasion, had just risen in the House of Commons, with some papers in his hand, on the subject of which he intended to make a motion, when a rough-hewn member, who had no care for the charms of eloquence, rudely started up, and said, 'Mr. Speaker, I hope the honourable gentleman does not mean to read that large bundle of papers, and to bore us with a long speech into the bargain.' Mr. B. was so swollen, or rather so nearly suffocated, with rage, as to be incapable of utterance, and absolutely ran out of the House. On this occasion, George Selwyn remarked, that it was the only time he ever saw the fable realized, A lion put to flight by the braying of an ass.
Raising the Judges Salaries.
In the Parliamentary discussion for increasing the salaries of the Judges in 1759-60, the Honourable Charles Yorke defended both the judges and the measure; the latter with more success than the former; yet, as the stories to their prejudice were neither flagrant nor of very recent date, the best apology was the little tangible evidence against them. The additional salary was voted by 169 to 39; which occasioned Charles Townshend to say, that 'the Book of judge's had been saved by the Book of Numbers.'
The Robin Hood Society.
In the last century, there was a nursery for young senators at the Oratorical Club in Essex Street. In this meeting, where one Jeacocke, a baker, presided, questions were proposed, and any person might speak on them for seven minutes; after which, the baker, with hammer in his hand, summed up the arguments.
Burke is said to have studied rhetoric under this baker, and the circumstance gave rise to a bon mot of Sheridan. When Mr. Burke quitted the benches of the Opposition, and walked over to those of the Treasury, exclaiming, to the great astonishment of the House, 'I quit the camp!' Sheridan arose from his seat, and after protesting, with much warmth, against the treachery of his late ally, said, 'he had quitted the camp as a deserter, and he trusted he would not return again as a spy.'
He then uttered a severe philippic against the apostasy of Mr. Burke, concluding in these words: 'The conduct of the honourable member on the other side of the House, may appear singular and inconsistent; but it is, in effect, both natural and reasonable, that the man, who, in the outset of his career, could commit so gross a blunder as to go to a baker for his eloquence, should finish by coming to the House of Commons for his bread.'
Lord Granville, in one of his speeches on the war with Spain, said, 'We were, in 1739, entering upon a war that would be stained with the blood of kings, and washed with the tears of queens.' It was in ridicule of this speech that Sir Charles Williams, in his poem called 'Pandemonium,' where he introduced orations in the style of the chief speakers of the Opposition, concluded that of Lord Granville with the following line, at the close of a prophetic view of the ravages of war:
'And viziers' heads came rolling down Constantinople's streets.'
Previous to the return of Horne Tooke as a member of Parliament for the borough of Old Sarum, through the interest of Lord Camelford, the noble lord begged that he would go down and show himself to the electors; but he replied, 'that he would sooner be without a seat.' He was, however, returned without any difficulty. Lord Camelford taking him in his carriage to the Petty Bag Office, Chancery Lane, presented him with a writ, paying all fees, so that Mr. Tooke had only two or three guineas to pay on his entering the House of Commons.
Royal Marriage Act
When the Royal Marriage Act was in Parliament, it met with a powerful opposition from Mr. Fox, afterwards Lord Holland, who opposed it in every stage, and succeeded in grafting several amendments upon it. In the discussion that took place on the third reading in the House of Commons, some member charged Mr. Fox with its being his Bill. On hearing this, he instantly took fire, and running to the Speaker's table where the Bill lay, with all the amendments marked as usual in red ink, and holding it up in the face of the House, exclaimed, 'And am I and my friends charged with bringing in a Bill of this kind after you all know how much we opposed it?'
'Look! in this place ran Cassius' dagger through;
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb'd, And as he pluck'd his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar followed it.'
Mr. Burke also took a distinguished part in opposition to the Bill. In one of his speeches, after pathetically depicting the mischiefs which, if passed into a law, it must one day bring upon the nation, and reprobating the unfeelingness of the parent who could ask for such a restraint on his children, he concluded with this affecting climax: 'But why do I speak of a parental feeling? The framer of this Bill has no children.'
Sir Joseph Mawbey.
Sir Joseph Mawbey, who had been a distiller, and one of the popular party in the House of Commons, having made a somewhat embarrassed speech in favour of the ministry, one of the members was ridiculing it before Charles Townshend. 'Poh, poh,' said the latter, 'poor Sir Joseph means very well; he only mistakes in not bringing with him, what he cautiously leaves at home, a still head.'
Sir Gilbert Heathcote.
Sir Gilbert Heathcote, who was a member of Parliament in the early part of last century, was esteemed one of the great patriots of the age in which he lived. In his time, a gentleman proposed to the House of Common, a scheme for improving the West India trade, to the benefit of this kingdom. This proposal was introduced by a very sensible and modest speech, which seemed to have gained the attention and approbation of the House. Sir Gilbert, who had not been previously consulted in this affair, stood up in reply, and the whole of his speech was no more than this - 'The Lord help thy weak head, brother!' The opinion the House entertained of Sir Gilbert's patriotism, and perfect knowledge of that branch of trade, prevailed over the strong reasons and arguments by which the proposal was introduced; and the motion was carried in the negative. The gentleman who made the motion, meeting afterwards with Sir Gilbert, expressed his surprise at Sir Gilbert's opposing a motion so reasonable, and of the utility of which he must be fully convinced, from his own knowledge of that branch of trade. Sir Gilbert's answer was by the following question - 'Why did not you acquaint me with it before you brought it into the House?'
Sir Boyle Roche.
An opposition member of the Irish Parliament, had appointed a day for a popular motion on some national subject; and for nearly a month was daily moving for official documents, as materials for illustrating his observations. When the night for the discussion arrived, those documents appeared piled upon the table of the house in voluminous array; and the orator, preparatory to his opening speech, moved that they be now read by the clerk, in order the better to prepare the House for more clearly understanding the observations he was about to submit. Several members observed, that the reading would occupy the whole night, while others shrunk silently away, unwilling to abide so formidable a trial of their patience. Sir Boyle Roche, however, suggested a happy expedient for obviating the difficulty, by suggesting that a dozen or two of committee clerks might be called in, and each taking a portion of the documents, all might be read together, by which means they might get through the whole in a quarter of an hour.
This suggestion, offered with profound gravity, was so highly ludicrous, that the House joined in an universal laugh, and the question was actually postponed for the night, to give time for the mover to form a more succinct arrangement for introducing his motion.
Sir Boyle was more remarkable for his disposition, than his abilities, to serve the government: but as he had a very extensive memory, speeches were prepared for him by Mr. Edward Cooke, which he used always to deliver very correctly. However, on some occasions, the worthy baronet's eloquence was not previously necessary, and of course no speech was prepared for him; but Sir Boyle was an old soldier, and too full of the esprit de corps, to look calmly on the conflict without a zeal for taking his share of the battle. He sometimes, therefore, ventured to volunteer an extempore philippic of his own; then it was that his native genius shone with its genuine splendour, pure from the mine, and unmarred by the technical touches of any treasury artist: then it was that all the figures of natural rhetoric, to use the phrase of Junius, 'danced the hays through his speech in all the mazes of metaphorical confusion.'
Upon one occasion of this kind, the worthy baronet was doomed to sit dumb, while he anxiously longed to distinguish himself in the contest. He felt his mind pregnant with ardour to shine forth. He endeavoured to collect his scattered sentiments, and combine them into some shape for delivery; but in vain. He retired to the coffee-room to reconnoitre his notions, and endeavoured to marshal them into some form for operation, but without effect; all was 'confusion worse confounded.' A lucky expedient crossed his fancy, and he was determined to seize the opportunity.
There was a ministerial member in the House, a learned Serjeant Stanley, who was usually in the habit of rising towards the end of a long protracted debate, and about three or four in the morning, amusing the House with an important speech of an hour or more, ingeniously compiled from the fragments of other speeches which he had previously heard in the course of the discussion: but, having so often played off this manoeuvre, he was a good deal bantered by his senatorial colleagues upon his skill in selection: so that he at last determined on attempting something original. He composed a long speech for the purpose, and anxiously waited to catch the Speaker's eye, that he might take the earliest opportunity of delivering his oration, adorned as it was with all the flowers of his wit and fancy.
Serjeant, Stanley had just stepped into the coffeeroom, to cast an eye over his composition, and refresh his memory, when Sir Boyle took a seat near him, and entered into conversation; the serjeant soon darted off in a hurry to catch an opportunity of speaking, but unfortunately, his speech fell from his pocket on the floor. Sir Boyle picked it up, and on reading it over, discovered that it would admirably suit his own purpose; in fact, that it was just the very thing that he wanted: a second reading enable his powerful memory to grasp the whole. He returned to his seat in the House, and took the earliest opportunity of delivering the borrowed oration, to the great astonishment of the whole assembly, and to the utter consternation of Mr. Stanley, who sat biting his nails with anguish, at hearing his elaborate performance, which cost him a week to manufacture. and which had vanished he knew not how, delivered by Sir Boyle, and lost to his own fame for ever. The worthy baronet, having finished his oration, amidst the plaudits of his friends, returned to the coffee-room, where he met the mortified composer; and without waiting for a formal denouement, addressed him cordially with 'my dear friend Stanley, here is your speech again; and I thank you kindly for the loan of it. I never was so much at a loss for a speech in my life; but sure it is not a pin worse for wear, and now you may go in and speak it again yourself, as soon as you please.'
Moving for Papers.
On a motion by Mr. Fox (11th of February, 1778) for an enquiry into the state of the army in America, Lord Nugent in opposing it, observed, that 'experience had taught him, that a multiplicity of papers served not to inform, but to perplex;' and in proof of this his lordship related the following anecdote. George Il. soon after his accession, told Sir Robert Walpole that he would himself see all papers of consequence, before any measures were taken upon them. Sir Robert was alarmed, and went to consult with his brother Horace what was to be done. Horace, seeing him so uneasy, laughed, and advised him to give the king more than he asked. 'Give him all the papers, and I dare say he will have enough of them.' Sir Robert took his advice, and carried a waggon load full to his majesty, observing at the same time, that he was sorry no more were yet ready, though several extra clerks had been employed in making copies; but that in a few days he expected to be able to bring his majesty twice as many. The king, somewhat confounded, told Sir Robert that he need not get any more ready, till he had further directions on the subject. The consequence was, that the minister never heard a syllable more of papers from his majesty, as long as he remained in office.
In an altercation in the House of Commons between Sir Robert Walpole and Mr. Pulteney, the latter told his antagonist, that his Latin was not so good as his politics; and insisted that Walpole had misquoted a line from Horace, which the latter was not disposed to admit. A wager of a guinea was immediately staked on the question by each party, and Harding, the clerk of the House, was applied to as an arbiter, who rose with ludicrous solemnity, and gave it against his patron. The guinea was thrown across the House, and Pulteney took it up, saying, it was the first public money he had touched for a long time. At his death, this guinea was discovered carefully preserved in a piece of paper, with a memorandum upon it, recording the circumstance.
Sir William Yonge.
Amongst the ablest speakers in the House of Commons in the beginning of the reign of George II., was Sir William Yonge; of whom Sir Robert Walpole used to say, that 'nothing but Yonge's character could keep down his parts, and nothing but his parts support his character.' Yonge was vain, extravagant, and trifling; simple out of the House, and too ready at assertions in it. His eloquence, which was astonishing, was the more extraordinary as it seemed to come upon him by inspiration; for he could scarce talk common sense in private on political subjects, on which, in public, he would be the most animated speaker. Sir Robert Walpole has often, when he did not care to enter early into the debate himself, given Yonge his notes, as the latter, had come late into the House, from which he could speak admirably and fluently, though he had missed all the preceding discussion.
'The influence of the crown,' says Mr. Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who was himself a member of the Irish Parliament which agreed to the union with England, 'was never so strongly exerted as upon this occasion. It is but justice, however,' he adds, 'to Lord Cornwallis and Lord Castlereagh, to give as my opinion, that they began this measure with sanguine hopes that they could convince the reasonable part of the community that a cordial union between the two countries would essentially advance the interests of both.
When, however, ministers found themselves in a minority and that a spirit of general opposition was rising in the country, a member of the House, who had long been practised in Parliamentary intrigues, had the audacity to tell Lord Castlereagh from his place, that if he did not employ the usual means of persuasion with the members of the House, he would fail in his attempts; and that the sooner he set about it the better. This advice was followed, and it is well known what benches were filled with the proselytes that had been made by the convincing arguments which obtained a majority.' In the first division which took place on the subject, the proposition was carried only by the majority of a single vote; and next evening, on the report of the address, the measure was negatived by 106 to 100. Before the next session, however, the 'usual means of persuasion' had worked miracles, and the Act of Union was carried.
Remonstrating with the Crown.
In the reign of Richard the Second, the two Houses of Parliament sent a message to the king, requesting the dismissal of the Earl of Suffolk from the office of Lord Chancellor, as they had charges to make against him which could not be brought forward while he retained that situation. Richard, who was then loitering away his time at his palace of Eltham, answered, with his usual intemperance, that he would not, at their request, remove the meanest scullion from his kitchen.
Both houses then refused to proceed in any public business until the king should appear personally in Parliament, and displace the Lord Chancellor. The king demanded that a deputation of forty knights, from the rest, should inform him clearly of their wishes; but the Commons declined a proposal in which they feared, or affected to fear, some treachery. At length the Duke of Gloucester, and Arundel, Bishop of Ely, were commissioned to speak the sense of Parliament, which they delivered in most extraordinary language, asserting that there was an ancient statute, according to which, 'if the king wilfully estrange himself from his Parliament (no, infirmity or necessary cause disabling him) but obstinately by his ungovernable will shall withdraw himself, and be absent from them for the space of forty days, not regarding the vexation of his people, nor their grievous expenses, that then, from that time, it shall be lawful for all and every of them, without any damage from the king, to go home, and return into their own countries; and now,' continued the message, 'you for a longer time have absented yourself, and for what cause they know not, have refused to come among them.'
They further reminded the king that there was another statute, and (as they might mote truly say) a precedent of no remote date, that if a king, by bad counsel, or his own folly and obstinacy, alienated himself from his people, and would not govern according to the laws of the land, and the advice of peers, but madly and wantonly followed his own single will, it should be lawful for them, with the common assent of the people, to expel him from his throne, and to elevate to it some near kinsman of the royal blood.
The king at first threatened to call in the French to support him against his refractory Parliament; but being reminded that such a step would only facilitate his destruction, he agreed to the nomination of eleven Parliamentary commissioners for the reform of abuses. They had, however, scarcely proceeded to business when the king meditated the calling of a new Parliament; and first summoning the several sheriffs, charged them to suffer no persons to be elected and returned members to the Parliament who would not promise to agree to his measures. At the same time he declared he would raise an army to enable him to punish such of his subjects as should offer to oppose his intentions, and asked them what force each county could assemble. The sheriffs answered that the people would never bear to be deprived of the freedom of election; and in regard to raising an army, they would never take up arms to oppose those barons who had gained the affections of the people by defending their rights and privileges. The king continued obstinate; and the result was that he was deposed, another raised to the throne, and himself cast into prison, where he died.
Henry the Sixth.
One of the most remarkable speeches delivered by a king, either in person or by deputy, was that of Henry VI., who was only nine months old when he began his- reign. At the first Parliament that was held, Henry Chicheley, Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the cause of calling it; and in allusion to the king, said, 'That as all perfections were comprised within the small number 6, since God had made all things in six days, so his divine majesty was to accomplish the good beginning of the famous 5th Henry, in the 6th Henry, his son.' In the third year of this king's reign, when the war against France was still carried on with various success, the Protector and council thought it necessary, in order to engage both Lords and Commons more zealously in their interests, to bring the infant king into the house; and accordingly, on the day of their meeting, he was carried through the city on a great horse to Westminster. Being come to the palace, he was thence conducted to the House of Lords, and sat on his mother's knee on the throne. 'It was a strange sight,' says Speed, 'and the first time it ever was seen in England an infant sitting in his mother's lap, and before it could tell what English meant, to exercise the place of sovereign direction in open Parliament.' The Commons being called, the Bishop of Winchester, then Lord Chancellor, opened the cause of the summons. For the head of his discourse he chose these words Gloria, honor, et pax, omni operanti operanti which he divided into three branches. On his second division, relating to sound counsel, he urged this text, Salus ubi multa consilia, and told them that an elephant had three properties, the one in that he wanted, gall ; the second for that he was inflexible. and could not bow; and the third in that he was of a most sound and perfect memory; all which properties he wished might be in all counsellors. That for their wanting gall, they might be thereby free from all malice, rancour, and envy; by being inflexible, that they should not stoop to any reward, nor in judgment respect any person, and of a sound memory, that they, by calling to mind dangers past, might prevent perils to come. His last topic being the relief of the king; he urged that it ought to be done with all readiness of mind, considering that God, by the young prince, his chosen vassel, there before them, had not only governed them in safety but had also given them many honourable victories and conquests; all which ought to enforce them more willingly to offer, that their grants be more readily taken.
Case of Westbury.
In the eighth year of Elizabeth's reign, one Long was returned member for Westbury; and it being complained that he came into the House by undue practices, the House took the matter into consideration, and finding that he had given four pounds to the Mayor of Westbury, they not only expelled Long, but lined and imprisoned the mayor, according, as it was alleged, to the law and usage of Parliament.
English Good Nature.
At the opening of Charles the Second's first Parliament, Lord Clarendon delivered a speech as from his sovereign, in which he conjured the members of each House 'to join with him in restoring the whole nation to its primitive temper and integrity, to its old good manners, to its old good humour, and to its old good nature and virtue, so peculiar to the English nation, and so appropriated by God Almighty to this country, that it can be translated into no other language, and hardly practised by any other people.'
Employment of Popish Officers.
In the year 1685, when King James 11. succeeded to the throne, a motion was made in the House of Commons, and put to the vote, 'Whether his majesty should be permitted to employ Popish officers in his army, or not?' This important question, on which the supremacy of the Protestant or Popish religion seemed to depend, came to a single vote, and was carried in favour of the former by a singular circumstance. A courtier, who was appointed to watch every member that had any employment under the king, observed one who had a regiment about to vote against the court; he, therefore, stepped up to him, and put him in mind of the slender tenure by which he held his regiment. 'I do not value my command,' said the member, 'since my brother died last night and left me seven hundred pounds a year.' This single vote gained the majority in favour of Protestantism.
The Convention Parliament.
Although the regular assembling of the two Houses of Parliament is by a writ of summons from the crown, yet there are cases in which they have assembled without such summons. The Convention Parliament, which restored Charles II., was an instance of this sort. This Parliament met above a month before the king's return, the Lords by their own authority, and the Commons in pursuance of writs issued in the name of the keepers of the liberty of England, by authority of Parliament.
The Parliament thus singularly convoked, sat full seven months after the king's restoration, and enacted many laws, several of which are still in force. The first thing, however, done after the king's return, was to pass an act declaring this to be a good Parliament, notwithstanding the defect of the king's writ. It was, however, a matter of doubt among the lawyers whether even this healing act made it a good Parliament, and hence it was thought necessary to confirm its acts in the next Parliament, lest any doubt on the subject of their legality should hereafter arise.
Legislating in a Foreign Tongue.
England affords the only example in Europe, of a country permitting its laws to be enacted in a modern European language, and that not its own. The ancient laws of Scotland, Sicily, and Italy, were in Latin; those of the Saxons, Swedes, Danes, and Spaniards, were in their own tongues; and those of Ireland, beginning with the statute of Kilkenny, Rd. II., are in English. It is not that the English language had ever ceased to be, that of the body of the people; for even the Norman conquest, and the vast influx of foreigners which it brought with it, could not prevent this. In the time of William the Conqueror, however, Norman-French became the court language, and the language that everything was written in, with which the court had anything to do. All the higher ranks of the English, in order to make themselves acceptable to their new monarch, 'cultivated his mother tongue in preference to their own; and, ere long, this acquirement came to be regarded as so certain a mark of gentility, that it passed into a proverb, 'Jack would be a gentleman, if he could speak French.' It was not till the time of Edward the Third, that the English language recovered from this foreign usurpation. At the close of a Parliament, held in the 46th of that sovereigns reign, the chancellor represented to the king, that 'the prelates, dukes, earls, barons, and all the Commons, had shown the king the mischiefs arising from the known laws, customs, and statutes of the realm not being known to them, because they were pleaded, shown, and judged in the French language, which was little in the kingdom; and the king, with the assent of the dukes, earls, barons, and Commons, assembled in the Parliament, willed, that all proceedings should be in the English language. At the opening of this Parliament, the Chief justice appears to have addressed the Lords and Commons in English, and the practice was afterwards continued. The French language, however, still continued in use in the rolls of Parliament and other proceedings, notwithstanding this declaration of the king; and to this day, it is in obsolete French that the king himself declares his pleasure on all bills presented to him, as Le Roi le veut; Le Roi s'avisera, &.c.
Speaker's Speech to the King.
Every Speaker of the House of Commons, on being chosen, must be presented for confirmation to the king. When his majesty has signified his approbation of the choice which his Commons have made, the Speaker makes a speech to his majesty, which generally concludes with these petitions:- 'that the commons may, during their sittings, have free access to his majesty; that they may have freedom of speech in the House; and that they may be free from arrests. '
The first Speaker that petitioned the king for freedom of speech, is said to have been Thomas Moyle, who held the office towards the latter end of the reign of Henry VIII. The prayer for privilege from arrest, appears to have been of later date, though there seems some doubt on the subject, as in the first year of the reign of Henry IV. Sir John Cheney, then Speaker, made a general request that the Commons might enjoy their ancient privileges and liberties without naming any liberty or privilege in particular.
Privilege from arrest has not, however, always protected even the Speaker himself; since we find in the reign of King Henry VI., that Thomas Thorpe, then Speaker of the House of Commons, was arrested in execution, between two sessions of Parliament, at the suit of the Duke of York. The House of Lords interfered, and demanded the opinions of the judges; who answered that it belonged not unto them to judge of the liberties of Parliament. It was then adjudged by the Lords, that he was not entitled to privilege, and some of the Lords went with a message from the king to the Commons, directing them to choose a new Speaker, which they did accordingly.
One of the most remarkable speeches ever delivered by a Speaker, was that of Serjeant Granvill to Charles I. It is too long for quotation, but a few extracts may suffice to show the tone of freedom and sincerity in which it was couched;
'Most Gracious Sovereign,
'My profession hath taught me, that from the highest judge there lies no writ of error, no appeal. What then remains, but that I first beseech Almighty God, the author and finisher of all good works, to enable me to discharge honestly and effectually, so great a task, so great a trust; and in the next place, humbly to acknowledge your majesty's favour. Some enemies I might fear, the common enemy of such services, expectation and jealousy; I am unworthy of the former, and I contemn the latter; hence the touchstone of truth shall teach the babbling world I am, and will be found, an equal freeman, zealous to serve my sovereign, zealous to serve my country.
'A king's perogative is as needful as great; without which he would want that majesty which ought to be inseparable from his crown; nor can any danger result thereby to the subjects' liberties, so long as both admit the temperament of law and justice, especially under such a prince, who, to your immortal honour, hath published this to the whole world as your maxim, that the people's liberties strengthen the king's prerogative, and the king's prerogative is to defend the people's liberties: apples of gold in pictures of silver.
'Touching justice, there is not a more certain sign of an upright judge, than by his patience to be well informed before sentence is given; and I may boldly say, that all the judges in the kingdom may take example of your majesty, and learn their duties by your practice: myself have often been a witness thereof, to my no little admiration.
'From your patience, give me leave to press to your righteous judgment, and exemplify it, but in one instance. When your lords and people, in your last Parliament, presented your majesty a petition concerning their rights and liberties, the petition being of no small weight, your majesty, after mature deliberation, in a few, but most effectual words, (soit droit fait comme est desire') made such an answer, as shall renown you for just judgment to all posterity.
'Were this nation never so valiant and wealthy, if unity be not among us; what good will riches do us, or your majesty, but enrich the conqueror? He that commands all hearts by love, he only commands assuredly; greatness without goodness, can at best but command bodies.
'It shall therefore be my hearty prayer, that such a knot of love may be knit betwixt the head and the members, that, like Gordian's, it never be loosed; that all Jesuited foreign states, who look asquint upon our Jerusalem, may see themselves defeated of all their subtle plots and combinations, of all their wicked hopes and expectations, to render us, if their mischiefs might take effect, a people inconsiderable at home, and contemptible abroad.
'Religion hath taught us, si deus nobiscum, quis contra nos? and experience I trust will teach us, si sumus inseparabiles, sumus insuparabiles. It was found, and I hope it will ever be, the term of the House of Commons, that the king and the people's good cannot be severed, and cursed be every one that goes about to divide them.'
The character of Marvel as a senator, is rather distinguished for integrity than talents. Mr. Marvel represented Hull in several Parliaments, during which time he considered it as a bounden duty to transmit an account of all the proceedings in the House of Commons to his constituents; and he frequently asked advice of them. After the prorogation of Parliament in 1675, he thus demands instructions from those whom he represented.
'I desire,' says he, 'that you will consider whether there be anything that particularly relates to the state of your town, and I shall strive to promote it to the best of my duty; and in the more general concerns of the nation, shall maintain the same incorrupt mind, and clear conscience, far from faction, or any self ends, which, by the grace of God, I have hitherto preserved.'
Mr. Marvel was so attentive to his political communications, that each letter contained a minute narrative of Parliamentary business. Such was his diligence too, that he says, 'he sits down to write at six in the evening, though he had not eat since the day before at noon; and that it had become habitual to him to write to them every post during the sitting of Parliament.'
Mr. Marvel was one of the last members of Parliament that received wages from his constituents; and he is said to have been the only one ever buried at their expense, the corporation of Hull voting £50 for that purpose.
He seldom spake in Parliament, but had great influence without doors upon the members of both Houses. Prince Rupert, particularly, paid great regard to his counsels; so much so, that whenever he voted according to the opinion of Marvel, which he often did, it was a saying of the opposite party, 'the prince had been with his tutor.'
Whig and Tory.
It is singular, that though the time when the appellation of Whig and Tory was first given to political parties is known, yet there is considerable difference of opinion as to the etymon of the words, or even to the reason why they were thus applied. Hume, speaking of the year 1680, thus notices the introduction of the terms. He says,
'This year is remarkable for being the epoch of the well-known epithets of Whig and Tory, by which, and sometimes without any material difference, this island has been so long divided. The court party reproached their antagonists with their affinity to the fanatical conventiclers in Scotland, who were known by the name of the Whigs: the country found a resemblance between the courtiers and the Popish banditti in Ireland, to whom the appellation of Tory was affixed. And after this manner these foolish terms of reproach came into public and general use, and even at present seem not nearer their end than when they were first invented.'
Bailey, in his Dictionary, gives us what he conceives to be the origin of both terms. Whig, which is a Saxon word, and signifies whey, butter milk, or small beer, was, he says, 'first applied to those in Scotland, who kept their meetings in the fields, their common food being sour milk, a nickname given to those who were against the court interest in the times of Kings Charles 11. and James 11., and to such as were for it in succeeding reigns.'
With regard to Tory, he tells us that it was a word first used by the Protestants in Ireland, to signify those Irish common robbers and murderers who stood outlawed for robbery and murder, now a nickname to such as call themselves high churchmen, or to the partizans of the Chevalier de St. George.'
Johnson merely says, Whig, whey, the name of a faction; and as for Tory, he supposes it to be derived from an Irish word, signifying a savage, 'one who adheres to the ancient constitution of the State, and the apostolical hierarchy of the Church of England.' The Irish word, Torbhee, to which Johnson alludes, is the appellation for a person who seizes by force, and, without the intervention of the law, what he alleges to be his own property, whether it really be so or not.
Defoe, in his 'Review of the British Nations,' thus defines the word Tory in reference to the Irish freebooters:
'The word Tory is Irish, and was first made use of in Ireland, in the time of Elizabeth was wars there. It signified a kind of robber who, being listed in neither army, preyed in general upon their country, without distinction of English or Irish.'
Defoe ascribes the application of the term Tory to a political party, to Titus Oates. The word Whig, he informs us, is Scotch, and was in use among the Cameronians, who frequently took up arms in support of their religion. It is said that the Duke of Monmouth, after his return from the battle of Bothwell Bridge, found himself ill-treated by King Charles, for having used the insurgent covenanters so mercifully. Lord Lauderdale is reported to have told Charles, with an oath, that the duke had been so civil to the Whigs, because he was a Whig himself in his heart. This made it a court word; and in a little time all the friends and followers of the duke began to be called Whigs.
Though the terms Whig and Tory are applied to politicians of opposite opinions, yet there is this difference: the Tories never acknowledge it themselves, while the Whigs glory in the appellation. Earl Chatham, in one of his speeches in Parliament on the subject of the American Revolution, attributed it to Whiggism. 'It was,' says he, 'the glorious spirit of Whiggism which animated millions in America to prefer poverty with liberty to gilded chains and sordid affluence, and that made them die in defence of their rights, as men - as freemen. What shall resist this spirit?'
The Rebels Of 1715.
Much has been said of the severity shown by the Whigs in 1715 to the people who took up arms in favour of the Pretender, which was magnified into the proscriptions of Marius and Sylla by some writers of that day, particularly Bolingbroke, who used the malignant assertion, 'That the violence of the Whigs dyed the royal ermine with blood.' The very reverse, however, was the case; three lords were beheaded on Tower Hill; two-and-twenty persons executed at Manchester and Preston; and of a great number found guilty of high treason in London, four only were hanged. On this occasion Sir Robert Walpole showed great firmness, and when petitions in favour of the Earls of Derwentwater, Nithsdale, and Kenmure were pouring into Parliament, Sir Robert declared in the House of Commons, that although the Earl of Derwentwater pretended and affirmed that he went unprepared, and was drawn unawares into the rebellion, yet, said he, 'to my knowledge, he had been tampering with several people, to persuade them to rise in favour of the Pretender, six months before he appeared in arms;' and with a view to prevent any further petitions, Walpole proposed an adjournment of the House to the 1st of March, as it was known that their execution would take place before that time. The motion met with so strong an opposition, that it was carried only by a majority of seven votes. But Walpole proved his conduct to originate in virtuous and disinterested motives, as he stated to the House that he had been offered £60,000 to save the life of one single person, the Earl of Derwentwater.
Old Standing Orders.
At the beginning of last century the 'Essential and Fundamental Orders of the House of Commons,' as then existing, were 'collected out of the Journals,' and published in a small volume. A few extracts will show how tenacious our ancestors were of the dignity and decorum of Parliament, and of enforcing the early and regular attendance of members.
1614, May 17. Ordered, That this House shall sit every day at seven o'clock in the morning, and enter into the great business at eight o'clock; and no new motion to be made after twelve.
Ordered, That whosoever standeth in the entry of the House, pay one shilling presently to the serjeant.
1641. Ordered, That all the members who Shall come to the House after eight o'clock shall pay one shilling; and that if any member shall forbear to come for the whole day, he shall pay five shillings, to be disposed of as the House shall think fit, and the serjeant is to gather in the money.
1642. Ordered, that whosoever shall not be at prayers every morning shall pay one shilling to the poor box to be prepared and set up at the door for this purpose, and the Burgesses of Westminster are to take care that the money be duly paid.
1647. Ordered, That so soon as the clock strikes twelve, Mr. Speaker do go out of the chair, and the House shall rise; and that in going forth, no member shall stir, until Mr. Speaker do go before, and then all the rest shall follow. Whosoever shall go out of the House before Mr. Speaker, shall forfeit ten shillings, but that the reporters may go first.
Ordered, That while any stranger is in the House, no member to stir out of his place, or to speak unto another; and if any member shall whisper, or cross the House, or read any printed book in the House, he shall pay one shilling into the poor box.
1692. That no member do accept of any entertainment at any public-house, for the carrying on any matter under the consideration of the House; and that the offers of any money or gratuity to any member for matters transacted in the House, shall be deemed a high crime and misdemeanour.
Ordered, That no member ought to receive, or give any visit to any foreign agent or ambassador, without the leave and consent of the House.
Ordered, That no member have leave to go into the country, without limiting a time when he is to return.
1693. Ordered, That no member of the Long be do presume to plead any cause at the bar of the House of Lords without leave.
Ordered, That no member of the House do presume to smoke tobacco in the gallery, or at the table of the House, sitting at committees.
Ordered, That no papist do presume to come into Westminster Hall, the Court of Requests, or the Lobby of the House, during the sitting of Parliament; and that the serjeant-at-arms do take into custody all such persons as shall offend against this order.
Ordered, That if any member has a servant that is a Popish recusant, or refuses to go to church and hear divine service, he shall presently discharge him, under the penalty of sequestration from the House.
Ordered, That if any menial servant of a member be arrested and detained contrary to privilege, he shall, upon complaint, thereof be discharged by order from Mr. Speaker.
Pulteney, Earl of Bath
In 1742, William Pulteney, who the year before had been one of the most popular patriots of modern times, and distinguished in Parliament by his powerful opposititon to the measures of Walpole's administration, dwindled into the Earl of Bath. Sir Robert Walpole, whom he had driven from the helm, had laid this snare for him, and Pulteney fell into it. On the first meeting of these two celebrated men, after their respective falls, up stairs, Lord Orford said to Lord Bath, with malicious good humour, 'My lord, you and I are now the two most insignificant fellows in England.'
Such is the anecdote connected with this event, as related by Lady Hervey; and certain it is, that from the moment of Pulteney's accepting a peerage he lost all his popularity, and his memory has ever since continued to be assailed with the charge of political apostasy. The recently published correspondence of the elder Colman, however, throws rather a new light on this business, and goes far, very far indeed, to vindicate the conduct of this distinguished statesman. Mr. Colman has left a MS. memorandum of a conversation which he overheard on this subject, between Mr. Hooke, the author of the 'Roman History,' and the Earl of Bath, in the parlour at Isleworth.
'Upon my first entrance into the room,' says Mr. Colman, 'Lord Bath was just closing an account of a conversation between himself and the king, by which it appeared, that the partizans in the opposition had had some differences among themselves. Upon this occasion, his majesty made use of these words to Lord Bath. " As soon as I found you were at variance among yourselves, I saw that I had two shops to deal with, and I rather chose to come to you, because I knew that your aim was only directed against my ministers, and I did not know but the Duke of Argyle wanted to be king himself." These words, it was agreed both by Lord Bath and Mr. Hooke, were suggested to his majesty by Sir Robert Walpole.
'Mr. Hooke then said he had always looked upon his lordship's conduct in that affair as a mystery, and so did most other people, who cried, "It is strange that Will Pulteney should be taken off by a peerage, when we all know that he might have had one, whenever he would, for many years before." But that he had conversed with some of his lordship's friends, who, though they also looked on his conduct as a mystery, still believed that he had good and honest reasons for what he did.
His lordship replied, that he certainly had; that there were several curious anecdotes relating to that affair, and some particulars known to no soul living except the king and himself; that he had never made any minutes of those transactions, but that he could easily recollect all the principal circumstances, which he would at times endeavour to do, in hopes that Mr. Hooke, as he had a fine pen, would, if he survived his lordship, work up those materials into a sort of history of this affair. He then told the following story.
'When it appeared that Lord Bath, then Mr. Pulteney, was at the head of the House of Commons, that no supplies could be raised, no business carried on, and that Sir Robert Walpole was in imminent danger, Mr. Pulteney received a letter from the Duke of Newcastle, signifying that his grace had a message to deliver to him from the king, and desiring that Mr. Pulteney would meet him at eight o clock, at Mr. Stone's in the Privy Garden. To this letter Mr. Pulteney returned an answer to this effect, 'that he was very ready to receive any message from the king, but that he absolutely refused to receive any such message by meeting his grace by stealth, at his under-secretary's, in the dark; that if the duke had anything to say to him from his majesty, his grace must come to him at his own house, by daylight, in sight of all his servants. He further desired the duke not to impute this behaviour to pride, for that it was necessary for a person at the head of a party, to manage his reputation in this manner.'
After some notes had passed, a meeting 'by daylight' was appointed at Mr. Pulteney's house, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Granville being present. The Duke of Newcastle then told Mr. Pulteney that he had a message to him from the king, which was to desire 'that Mr. Pulteney would accept of being at the head of the Treasury, and the nomination of those other persons whom he would have put in power; and that as Sir Robert Walpole found it expedient to retire, that Mr. Pulteney would promise to preserve him from persecution.'
Mr. Pulteney replied, 'that he utterly disclaimed all aiming at power; that he would accept of no places; that what he aimed at was not merely a change of men, but measures also; and that he would never come in to carry on the same system of corruption. That as to promising his majesty to secure Sir Robert Walpole, he neither would nor could make any such promise. That if his grace would read Cardinal de Retz, he would find that a party was like a serpent, the tail pushed on the head; so that if he promised, he should engage for more than he was able to perform. That, however, he was no bloodthirsty man, had no sanguinary views, and wished that Sir Robert might be able to escape by his innocence, the rather because he had once incautiously said in the House of Commons, he would pursue Sir Robert to his destruction. This had been considered by many as a very cruel speech; - but all that he meant by it was, the destruction of Sir Robert as a minister, not as a man; he meant a destruction of his power, not of his person. In short, as for a promise, for the reasons above, he could make none; so that if any such promise was expected, his grace's treaty with him must here break off, before it was begun.'
The Duke then complained that he was thirsty; and some wine being called for, Mr. Pulteney filled out a glass, and told his grace, with a smile, that he would drink to him in the words of Brutus,
If we should meet again, 'tis well;
If not, why then this parting was well made.'
'Among many other things which fell from Lord Bath on this occasion,' says Mr. Colman, 'I particularly remember the following. When things began to draw to a crisis, and the parties in the opposition saw themselves likely to come in, they became at variance with each other, concerning who should have the best places. This it was that occasioned that speech of the king's mentioned in the beginning of this account, and destroyed, said Lord Bath, that glorious scheme which I had laid of bringing about a reconciliation in the royal family on a proper footing, and retiring with honour myself. When I found (continued he) what they were driving at, I went to the Prince of Wales, and first asked him whether the others of the opposition had not been there before me. The prince frankly owned that they had been with him. I then told him that I found that their views were directed to the securing rich preferments to themselves, but that my sole aim was to reconcile his royal highness to the king, on a proper footing, and to make him appear in a right light as Prince of Wales. To convince him of this, I only begged to come alone, and confront all the rest in his royal highness's presence; upon which, the prince appointed a meeting at his house in Pall Mall, at eight o'clock that evening. I went accordingly, and found before me the Duke of Argyle, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Gower, Lord Cobham, and Lord Bathurst. Each of these spoke in his turn, and I answered each successively. When we had all spoken, the prince said that he thought. Mr. Pulteney acted from the best motives, and delivered it as his resolution, that he would go in with him. This was so sore a mortification to the Duke of Argyle, that it is thought to have occasioned his death.'
When the late Earl of Lonsdale purchased forty freeholds out of sixty-four, in the borough of Haslemere, he did not think it safe to entrust any of the inhabitants with a conveyance of these freeholds, and actually sent forty labourers from his collieries in the north of England, to reside in the borough, erecting cottages for their accommodation, and allowing them half a guinea a week each. in addition to what they might earn by their labour, if they thought proper to work; the only return his lordship required was, that these forty independent slaves should, in return, choose two members of his own nominating for Haslemere.
These men continued to reside in the borough during the lifetime of this nobleman, a period of upwards of twenty years; but on his death, his successor, thinking the expense of supporting them might be dispensed with, dismissed them, and sent them back to the collieries; the consequence of which was, that at the election in 1812, two opposition candidates offered themselves on the morning of the election.
The Earl of Lonsdale having made no conveyance of any of his forty freeholds, nor Lord Gwydir of the remaining twenty-four that belonged to him, there was not a single voter in the borough. In this dilemma there was but one stratagem to resort to, which was to cause the bailiff, who is appointed by the Earl of Lonsdale, to adjourn the poll to the next day; and in the meantime, to put all the attorneys that could be procured from the neighbouring towns, in a state of requisition, to make out as many conveyances as possible by the next morning.
Next morning, by nine o'clock, fourteen parchment votes had been created for the occasion, but these were all objected to by the counsel for the opposition candidates, as mere sham conveyances of tenements, for which the pretended freeholders were all paying rent to the Earl of Lonsdale at the time; but this objection was overruled by the bailiff, who admitted the votes: he at the same time rejected the votes of seven persons who claimed to be real freeholders, and resident inhabitants within the borough, who tendered their suffrages in support of Admiral Graves and his son, the opposition candidates.
The conduct of the returning officer, produced a petition from the opposing candidates to Parliament, when a committee was appointed to whom it was referred: and a more singular case of justice defeated by special pleading was, perhaps, never recorded. The Earl of Lonsdale's steward was first called to prove that the noble earl was possessed of all the freeholds for which the persons who polled for the sitting members had voted; the examination of this witness was objected to, on the ground of his being an agent to Lord Lonsdale. On the contrary side, it was contended, that if he had been an agent to the sitting members, it might be objected to his examination, but his being agent to a peer of the realm, who had no right to interfere in the election of members of Parliament, had no such effect. His examination was not admitted.
Lord Lonsdale's rent collector was then called to prove that he received rent of all the pretended freeholders for the premises they occupied, and for which they voted at the last election. His evidence was refused for the same reason as the former. The occupiers of the pretended freeholds were at last called to prove that they paid rent to the Earl of Lonsdale for the same; and that they only received the conveyances of the freeholds on the morning of the election, and returned them as soon as they had voted.
The committee then resolved that these men could not be examined to disqualify their own votes; and the petitioners having no other means of proving their case, the nominees of the Earl of Lonsdale were declared duly elected,
When Mr. Dempster was in danger of being ousted from Perth, one of the boroughs he had long represented, owing to a party made against him by the magistrates, his friend, Mr. P., was very active in his interest, and knowing that the provost, Mr. Stewart, was violently against him, he hit upon an expedient to win him over to his interest. Dr. Carmichael Smythe was known to be Mr. Dempster's physician, and a relation of the provost. Mr. P. accordingly applied to Dr. Smythe to know confidentially whether Mr. Dempster's health would be endangered by a residence in Bengal, stating that he knew it was the determination of Government to appoint him governor-general, provided Dr. Smythe thought his health good enough to stand the climate.
The bait took; Dr. Smythe with great gravity assured Mr. P. that India would agree very well with Mr. Dempster's constitution. The doctor immediately wrote to his relative, the provost, assuring him most positively, but most confidentially, of Mr. Dempster's appointment, and stating that he must support his interest at the approaching election, by all the means in his power, if he expected the promotion of his son in India. The provost eagerly caught at so good an opportunity, and in the expectation of making the fortunes of his house, devoted all his interest to Mr. Dempster, and secured his election.
Purifying the House.
It is a matter of gratification to contemplate the following picture, and to think how the times are altered! 'A godly member made a motion (says Aubrey), to have all prophane and unsanctioned persons expelled the House of Commons. Henry Martin stood up, and moved that all fools might be put out likewise, and then there would be a thin House. He was wont to sleep much in the House (at least dog sleep). Alderman Atkins made a motion, that such scandalous members as slept, and minded not the business of the House, should be put out. Henry Martin starts up: 'Mr. Speaker, a motion has been made to turn out the nodders. I desire the noddees may also be turned out.'
House of Correction.
In one session of Parliament, when an unusual number of bills were brought into the House of Commons, and afterwards corrected by the Lords, among others, there was a bill from the Commons to rectify a mistake in the Sinking Fund Bill.' This had been brought in by Mr. Gilbert, who had suggested various plans for workhouses and houses of correction. On presenting this bill at the bar of the House of Lords, Earl Bathurst, then Lord Chancellor, went down in the usual form to receive the bill; and after listening with great attention to the message delivered by his friend Mr. Gilbert, he said to him, 'You have been a long time wishing for a good house of correction, and I now congratulate your having found one; for this House has been nothing but a house of correction for the errors and mistakes of your House, this whole session.'
The Christian Club.
The annals of election bribery do not present a more flagrant instance of profligacy than that furnished by a society in New Shoreham, who assumed the name of the 'Christian Club.' This scene of corruption was brought to light before a committee of the House of Commons in 1777, when it appeared that the returning officer had returned a candidate with only thirty-seven votes, in preference to another who had eighty-six. Of the latter he had queried seventy-six, but made his return without examining the validity of the votes he had so disputed.
It came but in evidence before the committee that a majority of the freemen of the borough had formed themselves into a society, under the name of the Christian Club, the apparent object of which institution was, to promote acts of charity and benevolence, and to answer such other purposes as were suitable to the import of its name. Under this sanction of piety and religion, and the cover of occasional acts of charity, they profaned that sacred name by making it a stalking-horse for carrying on the worst of purposes, thus making a traffic of their oaths and consciences; while the rest of the freemen were deprived of every legal benefit from their votes.
The members of this society were bound to secrecy, and to each other, by oath, writings, bonds with large penalties, and all the ties that could strengthen their compact; and they carried on this traffic by means of a select committee, who never appeared or voted at any elections themselves; but having sold the borough, and received the stipulated price, they directed the rest how to vote; and by this complicated evasion, the employers and their agents shared the money with impunity as soon as the election was over.
The returning officer of the borough had belonged to the society; but taking some disgust at his associates, he quitted the party, and at the next election made a false return. He had rejected, he said, the majority of legal voters from his knowledge of the corruption of the individuals, and of the improper arts which they had made use of, alluding particularly to an affidavit of a very considerable sum of money which had been distributed among them. Although the voters had the hardihood to take the oath against bribery and corruption, yet he looked upon them as disqualified, and therefore made his return in favour of the other member.
On these grounds, the returning officer rested his plea of justification for the illegality of his conduct; and although he was taken into custody, and brought before the House of Commons, yet, in consideration of all the circumstances, and of his bringing so shameful a combination to light, he was discharged after receiving a reprimand on his knees from the Speaker of the House.
When the select committee made their report to the House, on the circumstances of this election, a bill was brought in to incapacitated eighty-one freemen of Shoreham, who were named, from voting at elections of members to serve in Parliament, and for preventing bribery and corruption in that borough. At the same time, an address was resolved on to his majesty, praying that he would order the attorney-general to prosecute the five members of the Christian Club who composed the committee that transacted the sale of the borough at the last election.
The various proceedings consequent on this election ran through the whole session, and it was not until the last day of it that the bill received the royal assent. This bill, which disqualified eighty-one corrupt voters, extended the elective franchise for the borough to the freeholders for the rape of Bramber, who were in number twelve hundred, so that it may now be considered as independent.
It was formerly the custom that the King's Speech at the opening of Parliament was read at the Cockpit the evening previous; but an ingenious parody on the royal speech having been printed in 1797, previous to its delivery, the custom has since been dropped.
A similar circumstance occurred in 1778, when Mr. Richard Tickell, grandson of the poet, wrote a pamphlet, which he entitled, 'Anticipation: containing the Substance of His Majesty's most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament on the opening of the approaching Session; together with a full and authentic Account of the Debate which will take place in the House of Commons on the motion for the Address and the Amendment.'
This pamphlet was published on the morning that Parliament met, and several copies of it were taken into the House of Commons by the friends of Lord North, and distributed to the members; who felt astonished to find how happily the speeches of some of the most prominent speakers had been imitated in manner, and anticipated in subject, particularly those of Lord North, Burke, Wilkes, Hon. T. Luttrell, T. Townshend, Dunning, Fox, and Colonel Barre.
The pamphlet was written in favour of the existing administration, and the ingenious author was rewarded with the situation of commissioner of the Stamp Office.
Being in the Secret.
When Lord North announced his resignation, and that of his colleagues, in the House of Commons, the members expecting a very long debate, had ordered their carriages to return for them at two, three, or four o'clock in the morning; but his lordship's declaration rendering any discussion unnecessary, the House immediately broke up in an evening unusually wet and tempestuous. Lord North's coach was waiting at the door; and as that good humoured nobleman passed through the lobby, he found those who had turned him out of office, huddled in crowds, both in the lobby and passages, looking in vain for servants to call vehicles to take them home; they immediately made a lane for the retiring premier, who, bowed pleasantly to the right and left, and mounting the steps of his carriage, said, 'Adieu, gentlemen, you see it is an excellent thing to be in the secret.'
Getting into the Secret.
The Duke of Wharton, so famed alike for his talents and profligacy, when, in opposition to the court, he waited on the minister, the day before the last debate on the Bishop of Rochester's impeachment; and acting contrition, as Mr. Horace Walpole tells us, 'he professed being determined to work out his pardon at court, by speaking against the bishop, in order to which, he begged some hints. The minister was deceived, and went through the whole cause with him, pointing out where the strength of the argument lay, and where was its weakness. The duke was very thankful, returned to town, passed the night in drinking, and without going to bed, went to the House of Lords, where he spoke for the bishop, recapitulating in the most masterly manner, and answering all that had been urged against him.'
The moment that the United States had established their independence on a firm basis, Patrick Henry, so renowned for the bold and active part which he took in effecting this revolution, was the first to forget all previous animosities, and to hold out the hand of reconciliation and peace. He was a strong advocate for every measure which could induce the return of the refugees, who had espoused the cause of the mother country; and made a proposition in their favour, which was very severely animadverted upon by some of the most respected members of Congress. Among others, judge Tyler, the speaker of the Assembly, vehemently opposed him, and in a committee of the House, demanded 'how he, above all other men, could think of inviting into his family, an enemy from whose insults and injuries he had suffered so severely?' The following was his prompt and beautiful reply.
'I acknowledge, indeed, sir, that I have many personal injuries of which to complain; but when I enter this hall of legislation, I endeavour, as far as human infirmity will permit, to leave all personal feelings behind me. This question is a national one, and in deciding it, if you act wisely, you will regard nothing but the interest of the nation. On the altar of my country's good, I am willing to sacrifice all personal resentments, all private wrongs, and I am sure I should most absurdly flatter myself, if I thought that I was the only person in this House capable of making such a sacrifice.'
Mr Henry then proceeded to show in a very forcible manner, the policy of using every possible means of augmenting the population of a country as yet so thinly inhabited as America; whose future greatness he thus prophetically depicted.
'Encourage emigration, encourage the husbandmen, the mechanics, the merchants of the old world, to come and settle in this land of promise - make it the home of the skilful, the industrious, and happy, as well as the asylum of the distressed - fill up the measure of your population as speedily as you can, by the means which Heaven hath placed in your power - and, I venture to prophecy, there are those now living, who will see this favoured land amougst the most powerful on earth. Yes, sir, they will see her great in arts, and in arms - her golden harvests waving over immeasurable extent - her commerce penetrating the most distant seas, and her cannon silencing the vain boast of those who now affect to rule the waves.'
Mr. Henry's proposition was carried, and every succeeding year proves that his anticipations were well founded. America soon experienced the policy of his counsels; and tide after tide, emigration has ever since continued to roll wealth and improvement over her provinces.
'But grant the stage is noble : I believe Greek's still plebeian, with Lord Belgrave's leave.' PURSUITS OF LITERATURE.
Earl Grosvenor, when Lord Belgrave, was said to be particularly fond of Greek quotations. On the debate in the House of Commons on the regency in 1788, his lordship quoted Demosthenes, but in this instance happened to be rather unfortunate in his selection; having adopted a line which was a bitter reproach of the Athenians, for wasting their time in enquiries about the state of Philip's health, instead of making preparations for the defence of their country. Mr. Sheridan rose immediately after his lordship, and in a strain of good humoured irony exposed the inconsistency into which he had fallen from inattention to the context of the passage which he had quoted.
It is a maxim of the English constitution, that all grants of money should originate in the House of Commons; attempts, however, have been made by the House of Lords, to interfere with this branch of the privileges of the lower House. In May, 1791, a bill passed the House of Commons, to amend an act, the 6th of Queen Anne, for regulating the rewards to be paid on the conviction of felons. When the bill was in the House of Lords, they thought proper to diminish the reward, thus assuming the initiative respecting money. The bill was then returned to the House of Commons, for them to agree to the amendments; but Mr. Addington, then Speaker, informed the House of the alteration made by the Lords, as to the money part of the bill, and quoted a precedent from the Journals of the House, of the 8th of March, 1719, by which it appeared, that a similar bill, on being sent from the Lords, had been rejected, because it affected the revenue. The Commons, in the present instance, followed the precedent, and refused to agree to the amended bill.
When Cromwell had forcibly broken up the Long Parliament, the whole civil and military power centred in himself. Wishing, however, to amuse the people with the form of a commonwealth, he proposed to give his subjects a Parliament, but such an one as should be altogether obedient to his commands. For this purpose he decreed that the sovereign power should be vested in one hundred and forty-four persons, under the name of a Parliament, and he undertook to make the choice himself. The persons selected were the lowest, meanest, and most ignorant of the citizens, and the very dregs of the fanatics. To go farther than others in the absurdities of fanaticism, was the chief qualification upon which each of these members valued himself. Their very names, borrowed from Scripture, and rendered ridiculous by their misapplication, served to show their excess of folly. One of them, in particular, called Praise God Barebones, a canting leather-seller, gave his name to this odd assembly, whence it was called 'Barebones' Parliament.
This assembly of hypocrites, composed of antinomians and fifth-monarchy men, began by choosing eight of their tribe 'to seek the Lord in prayer,' while the rest calmly set down to deliberate upon the suppression of the clergy, the universities, and courts of justice; instead of all which, it was their intention to substitute the law of Moses.
That such a legislature as this could stand was impossible; and the vulgar began to exclaim against it, and even Cromwell himself became ashamed of its absurdities; he, therefore, selected a few persons among the members, who were entirely devoted to his interests, and these he commanded to dismiss the assembly. They, accordingly, met by concert earlier than the rest of their fraternity, and observing to each other that Parliament had sat long enough, they hastened to Cromwell, with Rouse, their Speaker, at their head, and into his hands resigned the authority with which he had invested them. Cromwell accepted their resignation with pleasure; but being told that some of the members were refractory, he sent Colonel White to clear the House of such as continued to remain there. When the colonel arrived he found that they had placed one Moyer in the chair, who, on being asked by the colonel what he was doing there, very gravely replied, 'that he was seeking the Lord.' 'Then you may go elsewhere,' said White, 'for, to my certain knowledge, the Lord hath not been here these many years.'
Richard Cromwell, when nearly eighty years of age, was brought to London as a witness in a civil suit, tried at Westminster Hall. After the trial was over, he had the curiosity to go into the House of Lords, which was then sitting. While he stood at the bar, it was whispered about that the once supreme head of the state was present, on which Lord Bathurst went to the bar and conversed freely with the ex-protector of the commonwealth for some time. Among other things, he asked Mr. Cromwell how long it was since he had been in that house? 'Never, my lord,' answered Richard, 'since I sat in that chair.' pointing to the throne.
It is said that when Mr. Cromwell was in court on the trial above alluded to, the counsel for the opposite party reviled the good and inoffensive old man with the crimes of his father, but was reproved by the judge, who, mindful of his former greatness, ordered a chair to be brought for him, and caused him to sit covered. To the honour of Queen Anne, she, on hearing of the circumstance, commended the judge for his conduct.
Pitt's First Speech.
Mr. Pitt was returned to Parliament for the borough of Appleby, in January, 1781; and on the 26th of February following, to use his own phrase, first 'heard his own voice in the House of Commons.' The subject of debate was Mr. Burke's Bill for Economical Reform in the Civil List. Lord Nugent was speaking against the Bill; and Mr. Byng, member for Middlesex, knowing Mr. Pitt's sentiments upon the measure, asked him to reply to his lordship. Mr. Pitt gave a doubtful answer; but in the course of Lord Nugent's speech, he determined not to reply to him. Mr. Byng, however, understanding that Mr. Pitt did intend to speak after Lord Nugent, the moment his lordship sat down, he, with several of his friends, to whom he had communicated Mr. Pitt's supposed intention, called out, in the manner usual in the House of Commons, that gentleman's name. This, probably, prevented any other person from rising; and Mr. Pitt, finding himself thus called upon, and that the House waited to hear him, would not disappoint it. Though really unprepared, he was, from the beginning, collected and unembarrassed; he argued strongly in favour of the Bill, and noticed all the objections which had been urged by the noble lord who immediately preceded him in the debate, in a manner which greatly astonished all who heard him. Never were higher expectations formed of any person upon his first coming into Parliament, and never were expectations more completely answered. They were indeed much more than answered; such were the fluency and accuracy of language, such the perspicuity of arrangement, and such the closeness of reasoning, and manly and dignified elocution, generally, even in a much less degree, the fruits of long habit and experience, that it could scarcely be believed to be the first speech of a young man not yet two-and-twenty years of age.
Pitt's First Majority.
Mr. Pitt was only twenty-four years of age when he was made first Lord of the Treasury, and this, too, at a crisis when almost everyone feared to take the helm of state, on account of the powerful opposition of Mr. Fox, which was at that time in full vigour. Mr. Pitt, however, with a confidence and perseverance which nothing could dismay, boldly maintained his ground, although on the very first day he appeared in the House of Commons after his appointment, he was left in two minorities, and five hostile motions were carried against him. The most reproachful terms which disappointed ambition and political animosity could suggest, were applied to his principles and conduct; and he seemed to be denied those civilities which had been hitherto invariably shown to the minister of the crown.
Mr. Pitt wrote to the king, at Windsor, a general account of these proceedings, and was much encouraged by an answer, in which his majesty said: 'Mr. Pitt cannot but suppose that I received his communication of the two divisions in the long debate which ended this morning with much uneasiness, as it shows the House of Commons much more willing to enter into any intemperate resolutions of desperate men, than I could have imagined.'
Having found at an interview that firmness in his majesty which his letter indicated, Mr. Pitt determined to persevere in maintaining his station. For two months he held on his firm undeviating course, with constant majorities against him in the House of Commons, yet though embarrassed, he was undismayed. At length, his firmness prevailed. On the last division brought on by Mr. Fox, the majority was only one; and the next day the opposition to his measures was abandoned.
On the following day, when the House went into a committee on the Mutiny Act, Sir Matthew White Ridley, who had constantly voted against Mr. Pitt, said 'that he, and those with whom he acted, would that day prove how false the reports were that they intended to stop the supplies, throw out the Mutiny Bill, and plunge the nation into anarchy and confusion.' He asserted the purity of his motives, in the part which he had lately taken; and was now compelled to confess that the House was defeated, and to acknowledge that the minister had triumphed by means of the people, who had decidedly expressed their sentiments in his favour; therefore he was resolved to withdraw himself from his attendance in a House which had been sacrificed by its constituents to the prerogative of the crown.
Mr. Powys, who in the beginning of the contest had voted with Mr. Pitt, but in its progress had joined the opposition, followed Sir Matthew White Ridley, and 'acknowledged with regret, that notwithstanding the manly stand made by the majority, Pitt had conquered the House of Commons, and that he held his situation in defiance of their addresses. 'The House,' he said, 'was indeed conquered, for though a vote of the Commons could once bestow a crown, it could not now procure the dismission of a minister. As he had been often charged with inconsistency, he would this day give some force to that charge by voting for a long Mutiny Bill, and thereby putting it in the power of ministers to dissolve Parliament; a measure which, for some time past, he had been endeavouring to prevent. He was willing to let ministers run their mad career, and was convinced that a dissolution of Parliament would be ruinous; but the Commons were conquered, and he felt it would be in vain for him to oppose a triumphant minister, full of confidence in the troops that surrounded him. He had once, he continued, 'given a description of the forces that opposed the present administration; he would now, with leave of the House, describe those that were led by the right honourable gentleman on the treasury bench (Mr. Pitt).'
'The first night be called his body guard, composed of light young troops, who shot their little arrows with amazing dexterity against those who refused to swear allegiance to their chief, The second might be called the corps of royal volunteers, staunch champions for prerogative, ever ready to fall with determined valour upon those who should dare to oppose privilege to prerogative. The third was a legion composed of deserters, attached to their leader by no other principle than that of interest; and who, after having deserted to him from that principle, would desert from him upon the same grounds, when they saw their interest would suffer, if they should stand by him. Such were the component parts of the army which had triumphed over the House of Commons, and conquered the constitution.'
Although everyone must admire the firmness of the young minister who could thus rise superior to defeat, yet it is the less remarkable since his measures had the support and confidence of the king and of the House of Lords, and were even popular with the people.
His majesty had seen with great uneasiness the numerous defeats Mr. Pitt had sustained in the House of Commons, in the outset of his administration, and he dreaded that the opposition would be forced upon him. In a letter to Mr. Pitt, dated the 15th of February, 1784, his majesty says :
'My present situation is, perhaps, the most singular that ever occurred, either in the annals of this or any other country; for the House of Lords, by a majority of not less than nearly two to one, have declared in my favour; and my subjects at large, in a much more considerable proportion, are not less decided; to combat which, opposition have only a majority of twenty, or at most of thirty, in the House of Commons, who I am sorry to add, seem as yet willing to prevent the public supplies. Though I certainly have never much valued popularity, yet I do not think it is to be despised, when arising from a rectitude of conduct, and when it is to be retained by following the same respectable path, which conviction makes me esteem that of duty, as calculated to prevent one branch of the legislature from annihilating the other two, and seizing also the executive power, to which she has no claim.'
When Mr Pitt had succeeded in defeating his political opponents, and obtained majorities in the House on an important measure, the king expressed his gratification of the triumph, and of the means by which it had been effected, in the following terms.
'I cannot conclude without expressing my fullest approbation of the conduct of Mr. Pitt on Monday; in particular, his employing a razor against his antagonists, and never condescending to run into that rudeness which, though common in that House, certainly never becomes a gentleman: if he proceeds in this mode of oratory, he will bring debates into a shape more creditable, and correct that, as well as I trust many other evils, which time and temper can only effect.
King William and his Dutch Guards.
Soon after William the Third was raised to the throne, the House of Commons resolved that the army should be disbanded, and the king should send back his Dutch troops. This resolution gave his majesty much uneasiness, and when the time approached that his guards were to take their leave of him, all the tenderness of mind of a fellow-soldier returned. He deemed it impossible that persons, whose religion and liberties he considered himself to have saved, could be so inattentive to his honour in the eyes of Europe, and to those guards who had so often defended his life in battle, as to expel them from England with marks of suspicion and disgrace. He therefore wrote the following message with his own hand, and sent it to the Commons by Lord Ranelagh, then Paymaster of the Forces:
'His majesty is pleased to let the House know that the necessary preparations are made for transporting the guards who came with him into England; and that he intends to send them away immediately, unless, out of consideration to him, the House be disposed to find a way for continuing them longer in his service, which his majesty would take very kindly.'
The Commons, however, were determined, and the foreign troops were shipped off. On this occasion the king is said, for the first and only time in his life, to have lost his temper in government. When the refusal of the Commons to accede to his last message was brought to him, he walked for some time silently through the room, with his eyes fixed on the ground, then stopped, threw them around with wildness, and said, 'If I had a son, by God, these guards should not quit me.'
The Dutch War.
In 1673, Charles the Second finding the Parliament was much dissatisfied with the Dutch war, determined on proroguing it; and with that intention went unexpectedly to the House of Peers, and sent the Usher of the Black Rod to summon the attendance of the Commons. It happened that the Speaker and the Usher met nearly at the door of the House: but the Speaker being within, some of the members suddenly shut the door, and cried, 'To the chair.' The Speaker then resumed his seat, when the House, in a tumultuous manner, resolved, 'That the alliance with France was a grievance; that the Earl of Lauderdale was a grievance; and that the evil counsellors of the king was a grievance.' This done, the House rose in great confusion; and the king, seeing no hopes of getting a supply to carry on the war, concluded a peace with the Dutch.
The Debates from 1736 to 1742-3.
The Parliamentary speeches, as they appeared in the magazines from 1736 to 1740, were compiled by Guthrie, the historian; but from the beginning of the session of 1740, Dr. Johnson succeeded to that department, and continued it from that period to the debate on spirituous liquors, which happened in the House of Lords, February, 1742-3. That Johnson was the author of the debates during that period was not generally known; but the secret transpired several years afterwards, and was avowed by himself on the following occasion: Mr. Wedderburn, (afterwards Lord Loughborough) Dr. Johnson Dr. Francis, (father of Sir Philip Francis), Mr. Murphy, and others, dined with the late Mr. Foote. An important debate towards the end of Sir Robert Walpole's administration, being mentioned, Dr. Francis observed, that Mr. Pitt's speech on that occasion was the best he had ever read.' He added, 'that he had employed eight years of his life in the study of Demosthenes, and furnished a translation of that celebrated orator, with all the decorations of style and language within the reach of his capacity, but that he had met with nothing equal to the speech above mentioned.' Many of the company remembered the debate, and some passages were cited with the approbation and applause of all present. During the ardour of conversation Johnson remained silent. As soon as the warmth of praise subsided, he opened with these words:
'That speech I wrote in a garret in Exeter Street.'
The company were struck with astonishment. Dr. Francis asked how that speech could be written by him?
'Sir.' said Johnson, 'I wrote it in Exeter Street. I never had been in the gallery of the House of Commons, but once Cave (the printer) had interest with the door-keepers. He, and the persons employed under him, gained admittance. They brought away the subject of the discussion, the names of the speakers, the side they took, and the order in which they rose, together with the notes of the arguments advanced in the course of the debate. The whole was afterwards communicated to me, and I composed the speeches in the form which they now have in the Parliamentary debates.'
'When, sir,' said Dr. Francis, 'you have surpassed Demosthenes himself; for to say that you have exceeded Francis's Demosthenes, would be saying nothing.'
On the first meeting of the Irish Parliament, under the Lord Lieutenancy of the Duke of Portland, Mr. Grattan moved, in answer to the king's message, that celebrated statement of the grievances of Ireland, and declaration of right, which rescued Ireland from the state of subjection in which it had so long been held by the English government and Parliament. He was ill in health at the time, yet so splendid were his exertions, that Lord Charlemont often declared, that if ever spirit could be said to act independent of body, it was on this occasion. The sense of the House in favour of the address was so unequivocally manifested, that all opposition, if any was ever intended, was relinquished, and it passed unanimously. It was immediately after this great triumph, and to mark the sense which his country retained of it, that Mr. Grattan was rewarded with a Parliamentary grant of £50,000, being the largest pecuniary recompense ever bestowed, in one sum at least, on genius and eloquence exerted on the side of partiotism and independence.
The acceptance of this money gave occasion, afterwards, to many coarse attacks on Mr. Grattan; but if he did not repel them always with proper temper and dignity, he made his assailants feel, at least, that he was not to be offended with impunity. Witness his memorable rencontre with Flood [see Anecdotes of Eloquence], and the terrible lashing he gave poor Mr. Parsons, for echoing the animadversions of abler men. Mr. Grattan had moved a resolution to prevent the great offices of the state from being conferred on absentees. Scarcely had he concluded his speech, when Mr. Parsons arose; he was interrupted by Mr. Grattan's observing, that if that honourable gentleman rose to second his motion, he would withdraw it. Upon this, Mr. Parsons instantly launched into a most infuriated attack on Mr. Grattan and his whole political conduct. When he had exhausted himself, Mr. Grattan rose. 'Sir, the speech of the honourable member has been so disorderly and extraordinary, that the House will permit me to make an immediate reply. He talks of simple repeal; he does not understand that question; he does not know whether that measure was right or wrong. He speaks of renunciation; of that he is equally ignorant. The merits and demerits of either question, or of both questions, surpass his capacity. He has arraigned my conduct, but his observations are as feeble as they are virulent. The member is a melancholy proof that a man may be scurrilous, who has not the capacity to be severe. He speaks of the public grant Of £50,000; he says, I got that for bungling what the patentee was so fortunate as to complete. He says so, but why he should say so, or on what grounds lie talks, he is totally unable to explain; he repeats a sentence which he has heard, but the force, or meaning, or foundation for the sentence, the member cannot set forth; the jingle of a period touched his ear; he repeats it, but knows not why. The calumny urged against me by the member is not his own. Mr. Higgins (in the Dublin Evening Packet) has said it better than the honourable gentleman; the Freeman's Journal, too, has stated it better, and with much more ingenuity; but Mr. Higgins is a liar; the editor of the Freeman's Journal is a liar: and it is not unparliamentary in me to say, that the authority from which the gentleman draws his argument, is a liar, a public, pitiful, liar.' Here Mr. Parsons rose, and stepping towards Mr. Grattan, made use of some words of so gross a description, that they are not reported. Mr. Grattan sat down. The House immediately called out, 'Custody! custody!' and the Speaker ordered the galleries to be cleared. Nearly two hours elapsed before order was completely restored; and such an explanation effected between the gentlemen, under the sanction of the House, as rendered any other sort of appeal out of doors unnecessary.
On the 15th of May, 1797, Mr. Grattan closed an energetic speech on the question of Parliamentary Reform, with these words: 'We have offered you our measure, you will reject it; we depreciate yours, you will persevere; having no hopes left to persuade, or dissuade, and having discharged our duty, we shall trouble you no more, and after this day shall not attend the House of Commons.'
For several years after, Mr. Grattan ceased to attend in the Senate; and the same line of conduct was pursued by his colleague, Lord Henry Fitzgerald, and several other members.
Grattan and Corry.
When Mr. Grattan was urged by the momentous question of the union, to resume that seat in the Senate House of his country, to which he had for some years wholly absented himself, he threw himself at once into the boldest coalition with the leading advocates of that unpopular measure. Mr. Corry the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having spoken of Mr. Grattan's opposition in terms of great acrimony and abuse, and arraigned his motives as unconstitutional and treasonable, Mr. Grattan thus warmly and indignantly replied to him.
'My guilt or innocence have little to do with the question here. I rose with the rising fortunes of my country. I am willing to die with her expiring liberties. To the voice of the people, I will bow; but never shall I submit to the calumnies of an individual hired to betray them, and slander me. The indisposition of my body has left me perhaps no means but that of lying down with fallen Ireland, and recording upon her tomb my dying testimony against the flagitious corruption that has murdered her independence. The right honourable gentleman has said, that this was not my place; that instead of having a voice in the councils of my country, I should now stand a culprit at her bar - at the bar of a court of criminal judicature, to answer for my treasons. The Irish people have not so read my history. But let that pass. If I am what he has said I am, the people are not, therefore, to forfeit their constitution. In point of argument, therefore the attack is bad; in point of taste or feeling, if he had either, it is worse; in point of fact, it is false, utterly and absolutely false; as rancorous a falsehood as the most malignant motives could suggest to the prompt sympathy of a shameless and venal defence. The right honourable gentleman has suggested examples which I should have shunned, and examples which I should have followed. I shall never follow his, and I have ever avoided it; I shall never be ambitious or purchase public scorn by private infamy. The lighter characters of the model have as little chance of weaning me from the habits of a life spent, if not exhausted, in the cause of my native land. Am I now to renounce those habits for ever; and at the beck of whom? I should rather say, of what? half a minister, half a monkey; a 'prentice politician, and a master coxcomb. He has told you what he has said of me here, he would say anywhere; I do believe he would say thus of me in any place where he thought himself safe in saying it. Nothing can limit his calumnies, but his fears. In Parliament, he has calumniated me to-night; in the king's court, he would calumniate me tomorrow; but if he had said, or dared to insinuate, onehalf as much elsewhere, the indignant spirit of an honest man would have answered the vile and venal slanderer with a blow.'
Both parties instantly left the House. The Speaker, desirous of preventing consequences which all saw to be inevitable, sent for Mr. Grattan into his chamber, and pressed him for an amicable adjustment; but Mr. Grattan positively refused; he saw, he said, and had been aware of a set being made at him to .Pistol him off, on the question of the Union. it was therefore as well the experiment was tried now, as at any other time. Immediately on leaving the Speaker's room, a message was delivered to him from Mr. Corry, and attended by two seconds, they proceeded to a field in the Ball's Bridge Road, which they reached at twilight. It was agreed that they should level and fire at their own option. The pistol-shot on both sides did no mischief; Mr. Grattan's passed through Mr. Corry's coat; on the second shot. there was much science and pistol play; and it was at last agreed, upon the honour of the parties, that both should fire together. Mr. Corry missed his aim, and Mr. Grattan's ball hit his antagonist on the knuckle of the left hand. which he had extended across his breast to protect his right side., and taking a direction' along his wrist, did no further injury. The seconds here interposed, and the affair terminated.
Not withstanding the quickness and secrecy with which the business had been conducted, the populace had follawed the parties to the ground; and there was reason to fear, that had Mr. Grattan fallen, his antagonist would have been sacrificed on the spot, to the resentment of the populace; so enthusiastically were they devoted to their favourite. The issue of the affair reached the House of Commons whilst they were -still in debate. at half-past eight in the morning. It is said to have been stipulated between Mr. Grattan and Mr. Corry, previous to their going out, that should either of them fall. the survivor was not to vote on the question of the Union.
The first time Mr. Flood spoke in Parliament, was in 1761, during Lord Halifaxs lieutenancy. Everyone, we are told, applauded him, except Primate Stone, on whom he let fall some animadversions, which his grace had not sufficient magnanimity, or policy, to pass over unresented. At the beginning of his speech, Stone, who was in the House, not knowing precisely what part the new member was about to take, declared that he had great hopes of him; but when the 'young hopeful' sat down, his grace asserted with vehemence, that, 'a duller gentleman he had never heard.' This dullest of gentlemen became, shortly after, one of the greatest leaders of opposition in the Irish House of Commons.
On one occasion, when Mr. Flood, and other members of his party, had assailed the Government secretary with a number of pointed questions, to which they could obtain no answer, the secretary at length arose, and in a tone of chagrin, besought his antagonists not to press him farther for the present, as those of his friends who could supply them with the information wanted, 'were not yet come.' 'In ancient times,' replied Flood, quickly, 'the oak of Dodona spoke for itself; but the wooden oracle of our day, is content to deliver its responses by deputy.' The author of such a repartee, deserved to lead.
Fox and Pitt.
These distinguished orators and rivals, notwithstanding their political hostility, entertained the utmost respect for each other's talents. After the close of the first session in which Mr. Pitt appeared in Parliament, a friend of Mr. Fox saying, 'Mr. Pitt, I think, promises to be one of the first speakers ever heard in the House of Commons,' he instantly replied, 'He is so already.' From this and other testimonies, it appears, that Mr. Fox was very early impressed with a high idea of Mr. Pitt's talents. It ought to be mentioned, to the mutual credit of these great men, that in future life, when they were the leaders of two opposite parties, and the supporters of different systems of politics, they always in private spoke of each other's abilities with the highest respect. Mr. Fox, in addressing the electors of Westminster, soon after he had resigned the seals as secretary of state, and Mr. Pitt had been appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, bore the highest testimony to the talents of his rival; and at a late period of Mr. Pitt's administration, he said, that 'he had been narrowly watching Mr. Pitt for many years, and could never catch him tripping once.' Mr. Pitt also considered Mr. Fox as far superior to any of his opponents, as a debater in the House of Commons.
When Mr. Ponsonby made his motion in the Irish Parliament, for impeaching the Earl of Clonmel, Chief judge of the Court of King's Bench, for an oppressive exercise of his power, in the case of Mr. Magee, the proprietor of the Dublin Evening Post, the charge was so clearly made out, that the crown lawyers in the House did not attempt to refute it, but contented themselves whith shielding the chief-justice from the consequences, by that majority of votes which it was in their power to interpose. Mr. Ponsonby, seeing how the matter was to go, warmly observed, that 'he had done his duty in bringing the subject before the House; and he should leave it to them to do theirs.' If the attorney general were content to abandon the defence of his noble friend, the learned judge, by declining all argument, and trusting the decision to the Book of Numbers, be it so; he was quite aware what would be the issue: - He might, it is true, lose his motion, but Lord Clonmel was d--- for ever.' He spoke prophetically. The question was indeed put, and negatived even without a division; but, the judicial character and mental feelings of Lord Clonmel never recovered the blow. He survived but a few years.
The last time the question of Catholic Emancipation was brought forward in the Irish House of Commons, was by Mr. Arthur O'Connor. A sense of public duty prompted him to disregard the injunctions of his uncle, Lord Longueville, not to intermeddle farther with the matter. And the consequence of his disobedience, was the loss of the succession to his lordship's fortune, to which he had been the presumptive heir.
In a debate in the House of Lords on the 5th of January, 1788, Lord Grenville charged Lord Holland with a design of changing the fundamental basis of the British constitution. Lord Holland, in reply, sarcastically observed, that 'he certainly had not said one word of the constitution. No, it was a generous maxim, and one which he should always pursue, de mortuis nil nisi nonum.' The sort of argument which the noble lord had used, reminded him of some humorous verses by one of our best poets (Prior):
"Thus Harlequin extoll'd his horse,
Fit for the road, the race, the course;
One fault he had - a fault indeed!
And what was that? - the horse was dead!"'
Immediately after a division of the House of Commons, on a motion of Mr. Fox, Sir George Young, who had been absent the whole day, came down to the House very full of grape. Whether it was to make amends for having played the truant, or whatever other motive, is doubtful; but nothing could prevent him from attempting to speak on the honourable member's second motion; but beginning with 'I am astonished,' he could proceed no farther. The House, however, did not discover the baronet until he had repeated the word astonished, seven times at least; to which, adding three or four more repetitions, the House was in a roar of laughter. The baronet appealed to the Speaker, who pleasantly asked what he would have him do? The honourable member grew warm at this, and declared that he would not give up the word, 'for,' said he, 'I am really astonished, Mr. Speaker;' and was proceeding, until finding the laughter of the House too strong for his obstinacy, he was induced, by the advice of his friends, after having mentioned the word astonished a dozen times, to change it for surprised; by which time having entirely forgotten what he intended to say, he sat down.
Sir Philip Francis and Mr. Pitt.
In a debate, 29th July, 1784, on that clause of Mr. Pitt's India Bill, which went to take away trial by jury, Mr. (afterwards Sir Philip) Francis made use of an expression, for which that minister is said never to have forgiven him. 'Though I am not an old man,' said he, 'I can remember the time when an attempt of this nature would have thrown the whole kingdom into a flame. Had it been made when a great man (the late Earl of Chatham), now no more, had a seat in this House, he would have started from the bed of sickness, he would have solicited some friendly hand to deposit him on this floor, and from this station, with a monarch's voice, would have called the kingdom to arms to oppose it. But he is dead and has left nothing in the world that resembles him. He is dead, and the sense, and honour, and character, and understanding of the nation, are dead with him.'
Mr. Francis's opinion of Mr. Pitt, seems, however, to have changed somewhat with years; for in April, 1796, we find him, on making a motion for leave to bring in a Bill to ameliorate the situation of the slaves in the West Indies, paying the following high tribute to the talents of the premier, while at the same time he animadverted severely on the equivocal nature of the support given by him to African emancipation.
'Here is one person left, whose support, if I really had it, would undoubtedly be of more use than all the rest; but whose support I disdain to solicit.
'I tell him frankly, that the last decision of the House against emancipation, has left a shade, I will not call it a stain, upon his character. Is he not satiated with the possession of power and emolument? Is he riot weary of the drudgery of office, compared to which, the mere labour of a negro is in my mind a service to be endured? And does he think it possible that the country, that any rational being, should give credit to a proposition so extravagant and so, monstrous, that the allpowerful minister of the crown, with all his eloquence, and all his influence, and with the accession of thirty voices from this side of the House, should not have been able to engage more than seventy votes, on a favourite question of his own, if in earnest, and bona fide, he had desired to carry it? Is there nothing in his mind to elevate him for a moment above the level of his station? Does he never look forward to a time, when the merits of his character will be canvassed by posterity? And is it possible for him to endure the thought of passing for an ****'
Mr. Dundas here rose to call the honourable gentleman to order. It was an established rule of the House, to presume that no member ever delivered opinions, or expressed sentiments, in which he was not in earnest. To assert or insinuate the contrary, was unparliamentary, and a high breach of order.
Mr. Francis. 'I submit to correction, though I really do not think that I said anything to deserve it. Certainly what I meant was not to express a suspicion of my own, concerning the right honourable gentleman's sincerity, but to indicate to him the impression which the fact, as it stood, seemed likely to make on the general judgment of mankind, at present and hereafter. I have no time now to debate a point of order; nor is it necessary. The full idea which I meant to give, may be conveyed in another form. Instead of a comment, allow me to tell you a short story, from good authority; but whether it be true or not, is immaterial; it will serve to illustrate an obscure subject, without the risk of giving offence. A member of this honourable House was asked how he voted on the last question of abolition? " Sir, I voted with my friend the minister." "How so? I thought you had divided against the bill." "Very true, I certainly divided against the bill, but I voted with my friend the minister."
'At the moment when the Secretary of State (Mr. Dundas) called me to order, I was going to make an acknowledgment in favour of the right honourable gentleman, and to pay him what I never refuse even to hostile merit, an honest tribute of applause.
'What judgment I possess, is a good deal governed by impression: I cannot calculate the value while I feel the effect. I have not forgotten that illustrious night (May 2nd, 1792), when the House resolved that after January, 1796, there should be no further importation of negroes into the British colonies; when all the power of his eloquence was summoned to the service, and exerted in the defence of justice and humanity; when he took the House at a late hour, exhausted with watching, and wearied with debate; when worn out with attention, it revived at his voice; when he carried conviction to our hearts; when reason, at his hands, seemed to have no office, but to excite the best passions in our breasts; then, sir, was the time, if he had nothing to consider but his own glory, then was the moment for him to have chosen to retire from Parliament, perhaps from the world. He had arrived at the pinnacle of Parliamentary honour, and at the summit of his fame; and there he should have quitted the scene. From that moment, and from that station, in my judgment, he has done nothing but descend.'
Duration of Parliaments.
The advocates of reform in the representation of the people, strongly urge the necessity of shortening the duration of Parliaments. Few of them, however, consider, that though our Parliaments are nominally septennial, yet, that taking one parliament with another, from the reign of Henry the Seventh, when it is generally supposed that the duration of Parliaments was extended beyond one year, their average does not exceed the space of two years and nine months, even including the Long Parliament in the reign of Charles the First, and the still longer one, which his son retained in existence for the enormous period of nearly seventeen years.
It further appears, that in the last three centuries, only four Parliaments have existed beyond seven years, and that only eight more have had a sexennial duration. Of the rest, only five Parliaments have lasted above five years; two above four, and four above three; only nine above two years, and no less than thirty-four Parliaments have been for a shorter period.
Limiting the Peerage.
The conditions of the Union between the three kingdoms, have necessarily put an end to the power once exercised by the crown, of adding to the number of places called upon to return members to Parliament; but it has not been so with respect to the right of calling persons to the upper House; and thus, by possibility, commanding a majority of voices in it on every occasion of emergency. In the reign of Queen Anne, this power was exerted in a very signal and obnoxious manner, in the well-known case of the twelve peers created in one day, to carry a particular question. To prevent such a stretch of prerogative occurring again, a bill was, in the succeeding reign, brought into the House of Lords, to limit the number of the peerage. It had the countenance of the ministry for the time, and was passed by the Lords, who felt their dignity interested in its success. The Commons, however, being equally swayed by motives of self interest, resolved that the avenues to the upper House should be left as open as possible; and the bill was by them thrown out.
The Earl of Bath, inveighing in strong terms, in the House of Lords, against the administration of Fox, afterwards Lord Holland, and Pitt (Earl of Chatham), was reminded that the latter was about to be dismissed, and that Fox only would remain in office. 'This half measure,' said his Lordship, 'is the worst of all, and reminds me of the Gunpowder plot. The Lord Chamberlain was sent to examine the vaults underneath the Parliament House, and returned with the report, that he had found five-and-twenty barrels of gunpowder, but that he had removed ten of them, and hoped the remainder would do no harm.'
Although there are only two great parties in Parliament, who are directly opposed to each other, yet there are several other persons, much their inferiors, who render themselves of considerable importance by one method alone. 'They are,' says Mr. Burke, 'a race of men, who, when they rise in their place, no man living can divine, from any known adherence to parties, to opinions, or to principles; from any order or system in their politics, or from any sequel or connexion in their ideas, what part they are going to take in any debate. It is astonishing how much this uncertainty, especially at critical times, calls the attention of all parties on such men: all eyes are fixed on them; all ears are open to hear them; each party gapes and looks alternately for their vote, almost to the end of their speeches. While the House hangs in this uncertainty, now the hear-hims rise from this side, now they rebellow from the other; and that party to whom they at length fall from their tremulous and dancing balance, always receives them in a tempest of applause.'
In the 45th year of Edward the Third, the Lords and Commons granted, for an aid to the king, a subsidy of 450,000; to be levied from every parish, at the rate of 22s. 3d. each. The king thanked them for their munificence, and since they had performed the part of loyal subjects so well, he gave them leave to depart to their homes; the entry on the roll is, 'Il issait finy le Parlement.' When the king, however, proceeded to turn his gift to account, he found that it must have been made on the supposition that he had about forty-five thousand parishes in his dominions, when he had scarcely a fifth of the number! He was, therefore, under the necessity of convening another Parliament to rectify the error; which they did, by augmenting the rate to 106s. for each parish.
The Act 54 Geo. III., c. 26, for repealing the duties of Customs on Madder, and granting other duties in lieu thereof, enacted, 'that from and after the passing of this act, the several duties of Customs shall cease and determine...' A complete repeal of all the duties on Customs! Here was legislation, with a vengeance! Luckily the act contained a clause, enacting, that it might be altered or amended in the same session of Parliament. So a bill was brought in, three days afterwards, to rectify the mistake; which immediately passed through all its stages; and on the following day received the royal assent. It recited that, 'by mistake, the words, ON MADDER, (the several duties of Customs on Madder) were omitted in the preceding act.' 'Now to rectify such mistake, be it enacted. &c. that the duties of Customs upon Madder, and no other duties of Customs, shall be deemed and taken to be repealed.'
The Parish Registry Act (56 Geo. III., c. 146) provides that any person or persons wilfully making, or causing to be made, false returns in the books of baptisms, burials, or marriages, 'being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be deemed and adjudged to be guilty of felony, and shall be transported for the term of fourteen years.' And the succeeding clause enacts, 'that one half of all fines or Penalties to be levied in pursuance of this act, shall go to the Person who shall inform or sue for the same; and the remainder of such fines as shall be imposed on any churchwarden, shall go to the poor of the Parish.'
The only penalty imposed by the act is transportation for fourteen years, and that is to be equally divided between the informer and the Poor of the parish!
In the original draft of the act, instead of penalty, there had probably been a fine proposed; and on making the substitution, the necessity of a corresponding alteration in other parts of the bill was overlooked.
In the reign of James the First, an act was passed to prevent the further growth of Poetry in England; the object of the bill was to prevent the growth of Popery.
On the 16th of February, 1801, the celebrated John Horne Tooke took his seat in the House of Commons as representative for the borough of Old Sarum, and received the greetings of the Speaker, who, some years before, had endeavoured, in a speech of five hours, to subject him to all the penalties of high treason. On the very day, however, that the new member took the oaths and his seat, Earl Temple rose and said, that in consequence of having seen a gentleman sworn in, whom he considered as not legally qualified to sit in the House, he should at a future day, move that the subject be taken into consideration.
Horne Tooke did not speak on this occasion, but three days afterwards, when Mr. Sturt made a motion for an enquiry into the failure of the Ferrol expedition, Mr. T. supported it, and said, he was astonished when an attempt of this kind was endeavoured to be resisted, more especially at a time 'when the House of Commons was so ready to sit in judgment on the borough of Old Sarum, and the representative eligibility of an old Priest.' Towards the conclusion of his speech, he begged leave, with his usua humour, to ask, 'what kind of infection he could produce in that House? and whether a quarantine of thirty years was not sufficient to guard against the infection of his original character?'
On the 10th of March, 1801, Lord Temple brought forward his long promised motion relative to the eligibility of Mr. Tooke, whom he designated as the 'reverend gentleman.' He grounded his charge of illegibility on an obsolete act of Parliament, which declared, 'that no person, who either is, or has been in priest's orders, or held any office of the priest's church, can possibly be a member of the House of Commons.'
Mr. Fox was of opinion that Earl Temple had not made out a sufficient case for enquiry. Mr. F. was followed by Mr. Tooke, who showed the absurdity of the law that was attempted to be revived to his prejudice, and animadverted in strong terms on the conduct of the noble earl who had introduced the subject. 'The noble lord,' said he, 'talks of his stake in the country, to which I hope the House will pay little regard. I, too, have a stake in the country, and a deep stake; it is not stolen, to be sure, from the public hedge, for I planted it myself. This stake, sir, I would not exchange for all the notes of the noble lord, together with all the notes of his connexions.'
On the 4th of May, Earl Temple, after endeavouring to prove from the records, that no clergyman was entitled to a seat in that House, and consequently, that Mr. Tooke was ineligible, moved, 'that the Speaker do issue a new writ for the borough of Old Sarum, in the room of the Rev. John Horne Tooke, who was ineligible, being in holy orders.'
Mr. Tooke, in reply, began by observing that he had had but two struggles in life before the present, which were in any way personal. As to himself, he was regardless how the motion of the noble lord might be decided, for he was not in the least anxious about the privileges of his seat, as he owed no money; but for the sake of others, he would maintain his right. He then animadverted on the unparliamentary conduct of the Committee of the House, in delegating their delegated powers to others to examine old records, while they themselves did not even understand the Saxon characters, for in quoting twenty-one cases, they had made no less than eleven mistakes."
After Mr. Fox and Mr. Erskine had both spoken against the motion, Mr. Addington, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, very unexpectedly rose, and moved the previous question, which was carried by a majority of forty one. As the subject of contention was not thus settled, the premier, two days after, brought in a bil to remove al doubts relative to the eligibility of persons in holy orders to sit in the Commons of Parliament, which was soon after passed. In consequence, however, of an express clause in this bill, the penalties did not attach to the existing Parliament; and Mr. Tooke, consequently, retained his seat; but as it was expressly declared that he should not be eligible in future, he was not returned at the next general election.
The Chiltern Hundreds.
The Chiltern Hundreds, so frequently mentioned as being accepted by members of the House of Commons, when they wish to vacate their seats, are divisions of counties made by King Alfred, and now annexed to the crown, although they still retain their peculiar courts. The stewards of these courts are appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and their salaries are twenty shillings per annum; this sum, however, small as it is, being derived from an office under the crown, is sufficient to disqualify any person who accepts it from retaining his seat, unless re-elected. Accepting the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds is, therefore, merely a formal manner of resigning a seat when a member wishes to retire from Parliament.
The Hon. Charles Townshend.
If we can believe the evidence of his contemporaries, Charles Townshend must have been one of the most accomplished senators that ever sat in Parliament. He was a man of the most pointed wit, and of the most polished eloquence. His speeches in the House of Commons never lasted more than half an hour, and he had, in that time, always debated his subject without fatiguing his hearers. Mr. Burke, who knew him well, has paid his talents the tribute of a splendid eulogy. 'In truth,' says he, 'Charles Townshend was the delight and ornament of the House; and if he had not so great a share of knowledge long treasured up, as some have had who flourished formerly, he knew better than any other man I ever was acquainted with how to bring together, within a short time, all that was necessary to establish, to illustrate, and to decorate that ride of the question he supported. He stated his matter skilfully and powerfully; he particularly excelled in a most luminous explanation and display of his subject; his style of argument was neither trite nor vulgar, nor subtle and abstruse; he hit the house just between wind and water; and not being troubled with too anxious a zeal for any matter in question, was never more tedious, or more earnest, than the preconceived opinions and present temper of his hearers required, to whom he was always in perfect unison; he conformed exactly to the temper of the house, and seemed to guide, because he was always sure to follow it.
'Failings,' continues Mr. Burke, 'he undoubtedly had; many of us remember them. But he had no failings which were not owing to a noble cause, to an ardent, generous, perhaps an immoderate, passion for fame; a passion which is the instinct of all great souls. He worshipped that goddess wherever she appeared, but he paid his particular devotions to her in her favourite habitation, in her chosen temple, the House of Commons. He was truly the child of the House; he never did, thought, or said anything but with a view to it; he every day adapted himself to your disposition, and adjusted himself before you, as at a looking-glass.'
George the Fourth.
Few events ever created so great a schism in the British Parliament, as the French revolution; it was then that a band of orators, patriots, and statesmen, who seemed inseparable, became dissevered, and that those who had so long opposed, now joined the administration of the day. It was not, however, till the debate on the the king's proclamation against seditious publications, in May, 1792, that the Whig lords, in the House of Peers, exhibited some symptoms of political approximation with the ministers of the crown.
On this occasion his present majesty, then Prince of Wales, who had been considered as adverse to the administration, declared that 'he considered the present proclamation as an interference of government highly necessary to the preservation of order, and the security of our most admired constitution. Educated,' continued his royal highness. 'as I have been, in its principles; conceiving it, as I do, to be the most sacred bequest from our ancestors; I hold it a duty incumbent upon myself, and every noble lord, to come forward and support the proper measures for its defence. The matter at issue is, in fact, whether the constitution is, or is not, to be maintained; whether the wild ideas of theory are to conquer the wholesome maxims of established practice; and whether those laws, under which we have flourished for such a series of years, are to be subverted by a reform unsanctioned by the people.' The prince concluded an able and eloquent speech, which made a great impression on the House, by the following memorable declaration: 'I exist by the love, the friendship, and the benevolence of the people, and their cause I will never forsake as long as I live.'
It was anciently the custom, when a new Speaker of the House of Commons was presented to the king, that he pleaded his inability to discharge the duties of his office, and prayed his majesty that he might be excused. This was generally considered nothing but a mere act of modest dissembling, and had sunk into disuse for some centuries, when it was revived by Lord Sidmouth, then Mr. Addington, on his being elected to succeed the present Lord Grenville, as Speaker of the House of Commons, in 1789. On being presented to the king for his approbation, Mr. Addington addressed his majesty with great modesty, saying, 'that he felt himself unequal to the arduous task which the partiality of that House had imposed upon him, and hoped his majesty would be pleased, by his royal disapprobation of their present choice, to afford his faithful Commons an opportunity of electing a person better qualified to discharge the duties of an office so important.' His majesty more sincerely replied, that he was well satisfied his faithful Commons could not have made a better choice than they had done; and so Mr. Addington had the office, as it were thrust upon him.
During the short but eventful reign of fanaticism in London, in 1780, Lord George Gordon, whose conduct at this period can only be conceived by those who are aware what bigotry can achieve, used to leave his seat in the House of Commons, and go out to the people assembled in the lobby, in order to tell them partially, who were speaking, and what was at that moment doing in the House.
On one occasion in which Lord George was thus indulging himself and his bigoted followers, Colonel Holroyd, afterwards Lord Sheffield, fearing lest such inflammatory conduct might lead to the most dangerous excesses, seized hold of lordship, and said. 'Hitherto, my lord, I have imputed this behaviour to madness only; but now I am fully convinced that it arises rather from a malicious disposition. One thing, however, let me observe, that if by your conduct the safety of any member of the House is endangered, or that one of them receives a single insult, I shall consider your lordship as the cause, and [at the same time laying his hand on his sword] shall take care that you answer it with your life.' This threat had the desired effect: Lord George returned to his seat in the House, and gave no further encouragement to his partizans to follow him to the House of Commons.
Difference between Speaking and Publishing.
At the Lancaster Assizes, in 1813, Thomas Creevey, Esq., M.P., was prosecuted for a libel on Mr: Kirkpatrick, the Inspector General of Taxes at Liverpool. It appeared that Mr. Creevey, in the course of a speech in the House of Commons, had designated the office of Mr. Kirkpatrick as that of a common informer, and insinuated that he received a large annuity for undertaking to screw up the assessments to the extent of his own imagination. An erroneous report of this speech having appeared in a Liverpool newspaper, Mr. Creevey sent a correct account of it to the printer, who accordingly inserted it.
Mr. Parke, counsel for the prosecution, after commenting on the above passage, which he declared to be a scandalous and defamatory libel, said if the defendant had only made the speech in Parliament, it might have been impossible to convict him; but having published it, he was answerable if it contained libellous matter, just the same as for the publication of a libel of any other description. He quoted the trial of the King v. Lord Abingdon, as a case in point.
Mr. Brougham, on behalf of Mr. Creevey, maintained, first, that any person had a right to publish a correct account of the proceedings in Parliament; and secondly, that the publication was not a libel. 'Could it,' he said, 'be the law of the land, or the law of Parliament, that any reporter might print as the speech of a member of Parliament, that which he did not speak, and that members of Parliament alone were to be interdicted by the terrors of fine and imprisonment from publishing what they did say?'
Sir Simon le Blanc, the judge who presided, stated it as his opinion that the publication in question was a libel; and that it was no extenuation to say that it was the report of a speech of Parliament.
The jury found Mr. Creevey guilty, and he was afterwards imprisoned for the offence.
Earl of Shaftesbury and James II.
The Earl of Shaftesbury was no sooner appointed Lord Chancellor than, by a very trivial incident, he demonstrated how irreconcileably he was at variance with the Duke of York (after James II.) and the Popish faction. The duke had been for several years accustomed to place himself in the House of Peers to the right hand of the throne, on the seat appropriated to the Prince of Wales; but on the opening of the Session of Parliament in 1673, Lord Shaftesbury, as Chancellor, refused to proceed to business till his royal highness had removed to his proper place, on the left hand of the throne. This threw the duke into a violent passion, and he at first refused compliance in the most provoking language, calling the Lord Chancellor a villain and a rascal. Lord Shaftesbury, with that command of temper and readiness of retort for which he was celebrated, calmly replied: 'I am much obliged to your highness for not also calling me papist and coward.' The duke was at last compelled to submit, and take the seat assigned to him.
Charles the Second used to say of this distinguished statesman, that 'he knew more law than all his judges, and more divinity than all his bishops.'
Both Rogue and Fool
A member of an election committee having read the newspapers during part of the time the merits of a vote were under discussion and slept the rest, was challenged by the chairman for his behaviour. He bluntly answered, 'I had made up my mind on the case.' On the circumstance being related to Dr. Johnson, he observed, 'if he (the honourable member) was such a rogue as to make up his mind on a case without hearing it, he should not have been such a fool as to tell it.' 'I think,' said Mr. Dudley Long (afterwards North), 'the Doctor has pretty plainly made him out to be both rogue and fool.'
America a Part of Kent.
Of all the arguments by which the right of Great Britain to tax American colonies was vindicated, none was so singular or so extravagant as that urged by Sir James Marriott, the judge who presided in the Court of Admiralty. In a speech which he made in the House of Commons, in 1782, after maintaining that 'the American war was just in its ongin,' he proceeded to prove the assertion, by observing, 'that although it had been frequently pretended that the inhabitants of the colonies were not represented in the British Parliament, yet the fact was otherwise, for they were actually represented. The first colonization by national and sovereign authority, was the establishment of the colony of Virginia. The grants and charters made of these lands, and of all the subsequent colonies, were of one tenor and expressed in the following terms: 'To have and to hold of the king or queen's majesty, as part and parcel of the manor of East Greenwich, within the county of Kent, reddendum a certain rent at our castle of East Greenwich,' &c. So that the inhabitants of America were, in fact, by the nature of their tenure, represented in Parliament by the knights of the shire for the county of Kent.'
This singular legal discovery, that the American colonies actually constituted part and parcel of the manor of East Greenwich, although delivered with all due solemnity, excited so much merriment in the House, that the Speaker found it necessary to employ his authority to enforce order.
The evening on which Lord Cochrane's imprisonment for the Stock Exchange hoax had expired, he proceeded from the King's Bench to the House of Commons, and by his single vote, made a majority against the second reading of the bill for granting an additional sum of £6000 a year to the Duke of Cumberland. This proposed grant had met with the most decided opposition in the House, in the whole of its progress, and it was forwarded through its several stages by very trifling majorities. On the second reading, the question was just on the point of being put to the vote; at this moment, Lord Cochrane entered, and made the number for the second reading, one hundred and twenty five, against it, one hundred and twenty-six. Had it not been for the unexpected arrival of Lord Cochrane, the numbers would have been equal, and the Speaker must have been appealed to for his casting vote.
Sir Richard Hill.
Sir Richard Hill, who for many years represented Shropshire in Parliament, was a very constant speaker in the House, where the motley mixture of politics and religion which composed his harangues, frequently excited considerable merriment. The author of Criticisms on the Rallied, has exhibited the peculiarities of the worthy baronet, though with too much severity, in the following passage:
'With wit so various, piety so odd,
Quoting by turns from Miller and from God;
Shall no distinction wait thy honour'd name?
No lofty epithet transmit thy fame?
Forbid it wit; from mirth refined, away!
Forbid it scripture, which thou mak'st so gay!
Scipio, we know, was Africanus call'd;
Richard, styl'd Longshanks; Charles, surnam'd the Bald;
Shall these, for petty merits, be renown'd,
And no proud phrase, with panegyric sound,
Swell thy short name, great Hill? Here, take thy due,
And hence be call'd, THE SCRIPTURAL KILLIGREW.'
The freedom of election was never more grossly violated than in Ireland, previous to the Union. The Beresford family, who were at the head of the revenue, could, on all emergencies, march a whole army of excisemen, tax-gatherers, distillers, brewers, and publicans, into the field; all of whom had either votes in corporations, or were forty shilling freeholders in three or four counties; and if, on any occasion, the success of the court was doubtful, a batch of those fortyshilling voters was manufactured for the occasion, and the same identical acre was sometimes transferred in succession from one to twenty tenants, with an increasing profit rent of forty shillings a year to each. On one particular occasion, when popular interest ran high, on the approach of a general election, Mr. Beresford was obliged to brigade the custom house officers from the metropolis, and every out port in the kingdom, all of whom being previously organized as quorum voters for several counties, were actually marched by squads through every district within the circuit of their respective cantonments, to turn the scale at every election they could reach.
This circumstance was, on the meeting of the Parliament, happily seized by Mr. Curran, who dwelt on it with infinite humour. 'What, Mr. Speaker,' said he, 'must be the alarm and consternation of the whole country, when they saw these hordes of custom-house Tartars travelling every district, devouring like locusts the provisions, and overwhelming the franchises of the people? These fiscal comedians travelled in carts and waggons, from town to town, county to county, and election to election, to fill this House, not with the representatives of the people, but of the great Cham, who commands them. Methinks I see a whole caravan of these strolling constituents, trundling in their vehicles towards a country town, where some gaping simpleton, in wonderment at their appearance, asks the driver of the first vehicle, "Where, my good fellow, are you going with these raggamuffins? I suppose they are convicts on their way to the kidship, for transportation to Botany Bay." "Oh! no," answers the driver, "they are only a few cartloads of raw materials for manufacturing members of Parliament, on their way to the next election."'
Such is said to have been the effect of his speech, that Mr. Beresford, and his whole corps of commissioners, joined in the general laugh which it excited.
Duel between Pitt and Tierney.
Mr. Tierney having opposed the bill for suspending seamen's protections, which was brought into the House of Commons in 1798, Mr. Pitt, who seemed on this occasion to have lost his usual moderation, declared, 'that he considered Mr. Tierney's opposition to it as proceeding from a wish to impede the service of the country.' Mr. Tierney immediately rose, and calling Mr. Pitt to order, appealed to the House for protection.
Mr. Addington, who then occupied the chair, observed, 'That if the House should consider the words which had been used conveying a personal reflection on the honourable gentleman, they were in that point of View to be considered as unparliamentary and disorderly. It was for the House to decide on their application, and they would. wait in the mean time for the explanation of the right honourable gentleman.'
Mr. Pitt, instead of apologizing for the warmth of his expressions, as was expected, said, 'If the House called on him to explain away anything that he had said, they might wait long enough for such an explanation! He was of opinion, that the honourable gentleman was opposing a necessary measure for the defence of the country: and, therefore, should neither explain, nor retract, any part of what he had said on the subject.'
Here the matter ended as far as the proceedings in Parliament were concerned, but on the following day, Mr. Tierney sent Mr. Pitt a challenge. The parties met on Sunday, at Putney Heath, a case of pistols was fired at the same moment without effect; a second case was also fired in the same manner; but Mr. Pitt firing his second pisto in the air, the seconds interfered, and thus the business terminated.
No sooner was the result of this affair known, than squibs, epigrams, pasquinades, and caricatures, appeared on all sides; one of the best, was a ballad in imitation of Chevy Chase, of which the following are a few of the stanzas:
'Two orators, whose venom'd tongues
Had left a point in doubt,
With weapons of more deadly mould,
Resolv'd to fight it out.
The one, a squire of manners blunt,
A patriot staunch within;
The other of a lordly breed,
A courtier tall and thin.
Firearms they chose, artillery dire,
Pistols, flint, powder, shot;
Battle the powder; what the ball,
The poet knoweth not.
The ground they took, the mortal tube
Each pointed as he might;
When, marvellous to either sense,
Both vanish'd out of sight.
Again they prim'd, again they fir'd,
Again the film came o'er;
When now the seconds made a vow,
That they should fight no more.
Such was the mist that veil'd from view,
The Greeks from Trojan foes,
Preserv'd them for a future day,
And lengthen'd Ilium's woes.'
Orator and no Orator.
On the dissolution of Parliament in 1774, Mr. Burke was returned member for Malton; but when on the point of sitting down, after the election, to dinner with his friends in that town, a deputation of merchants arrived from Bristol requesting him to stand for that city.
By the advice of his Malton constituents, he set off immediately, and arriving at Bristol on the sixth day of the election, delivered so eloquent a speech, and displayed so intimate an acquaintance with the advantages and principles of commerce, and the local interests of Bristol, as produced the most striking impression on the minds of the electors, and ensured his final success. He was returned for that city, in conjunction with Mr. Cruger, a gentleman, who, it would appear, possessed no great share of that eloquence which so eminently distinguished his colleague. Mr. Burke returned thanks in an eloquent speech, and when he had concluded, Cruger arose and exclaimed, 'I say ditto to Mr. Burke - I say ditto to Mr. Burke.'
Mr. Windham, was one of those orators to whom justice has perhaps never been done; for having created numerous enemies by his occasional irritability of temper, and the use of some unguarded expressions, these have been dwelt on and remembered, while the brilliant displays of his eloquence have been forgotten. Every person remembers that Mr. Windham vindicated bullbaiting and cockfighting; that he spoke of the failure of the Quiberon expedition, as 'a killing off' of soldiers; and that he compared the small economy recommended by the opponents of ministers, as 'the miserable savings of the ends of candles, and the parings of bits of cheese.' All these expressions are treasured up, while the subjects that gave rise to them, and the context of the argument, are entirely forgotten.
But the political opponents of Mr. Windham were not content with the opening which he sometimes afforded them amidst the sallies of indignation, or the surmises which they deduced from the warmth of his temper and the violence of his zeal: they went still further, and ascribed to him sayings and maxims which he never uttered, and which were calculated to injure his character with the public, and his interest with his constituents.
This practice at length became so common, that Mr. Windham found it necessary to vindicate his character from the false charges or misrepresentations that had gone abroad. In a debate on the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, he took occassion to falsehood everywhere circulated, that he had exclaimed, 'Perish our commerce!' and appealed to the House if he had ever used the expression. Mr. Hardinge immediately rose, and relieved the honourable gentleman and the House from all doubt on the subject, by fathering the words himself. He observed that, in justice to all parties, he was anxious to declare that the sentiment alluded to, relating to the commerce and constitution of the country, had come from him, and not from Mr. Windham; nor was he ashamed now to repeat, that if the unfortunate difficulty should ever arrive when he must sacrifice either the one or the other, he would again say, 'Perish commerce; live the constitution!'
There was generally more force than brilliancy in the speeches of Mr. Windham, though some of them were not destitute of the latter quality. On the motion relative to the conduct of Mr. Rose, during the Westminster election. he attacked the ministers in a vein of happy ridicule. After combating the attempts to evade an inquiry, he said, 'This administration, which it has been the fashion to paint as a paragon of purity and virtue, will now stand unmasked and exposed in its true and natural colours. The gay and embroidered suit of pretence, in which ministers have decked themselves, and under which they have strutted in magnificent disguise, is torn off, and we behold them in the tattered rags of their genuine deformity. They stand like the uncased Frenchman (whom the licentiousness of our stage is too apt to ridicule) in ruffles, without a shirt; in tinsels and lace on the outside, in dirt or dowlas within.'
Mr. Windharn was an able and eloquent advocate for the abolition of the slave trade; he was also an enemy to state lotteries. In one of his speeches on the latter subject, in 1792, when Mr. Mainwaring had stated the increase of abuses practised during that year, Mr. Windham said that 'Government, by acquiescing in the plan of a state lottery, had avowed themselves the bankers - the partners of all the rogues and vagabonds now described. They made war upon the morals of the people; and the progress of the unfortunate crimina might be easily traced, step by step, from the insurance office to the Old Bailey. The mischief,' he said, 'had extended to every class; and were a committee appointed to inquire into the operations of it, they would trace it to the first floor, from that to the second - to the garret - to the pawnbroker's shop - to the Old Bailey - to the gallows, or to Bedlam, or the workhouse.'
Previous to the celebrated debate that took place in 1805, on the 'Tenth Report of the Commissioners of Naval Inquiry,' Sheridan was observed in a coffee-house near the House of Commons, with tea, pens, ink, and paper, before him. For some time he sat drinking tea, and making memoranda, when he called the waiter to bring him some brandy. A half pint tumbler was immediately brought him, when continuing awhile drinking his tea, he at length collected his papers, put them into his pocket, and swallowing his half-pint of brandy at a draught, like a glass of porter, he went to the House, where he made one of the best speeches ever delivered by him, alike remarkable for keenness of argument and brilliancy of wit; and this under the influence of a potion which would wholly have deprived most men of their faculties.
For the last few years of Mr. Sheridan's public life, he seldom spoke in Parliament; and when he did speak, he was no longer distinguished for the ardour of his attacks, the pertinacity and promptness of his questions, or the brilliancy, of his replies. He, however, terminated his political career with a splendid proof of eloquence. This was in 1812,when the overtures for peace which had then recently been made by France, were the subject of discussion. He declared resistance to Bonaparte, even with the hazard of defeat, to be absolutely necessary; and concluded with the following animated sentence, which was the last he uttered in Parliament. 'If we fall,' said he, 'in this great struggle, and if after our ruin, there shall possibly rise an historian able to appreciate the merits and importance of events, his language will be, "Britain fell; and fell with her, all the best securities for the charities of human life; the power, the honour, the fame, the glory, and the liberties, not only of herself, but of the whole civilized world."' [See Anecdotes of Eloquence.]
Bishop of Llandaff.
Dr. Watson, the Bishop of Llandaff, was one of the most unmanageable prelates, that ever sat in Parliament; and notwithstanding his talents entitled him to higher preferment, yet his way and disposition were such as to render his influence and interest of little value to any minister. In Parliament, however, his conduct was manly and independent, and not to be influenced by friendship or party. A remarkable proof of this occurred with respect to Mr. Fox's India Bill. The Bishop of Llandaff disapproved of it, and all that he could be prevailed on to do was to promise the Duke of Portland not to oppose it. The Duke of Rutland knowing this, applied to him on the opposite side, when the bishop returned him the following characteristic answer:
'MY DEAR LORD DUKE,
'The enclosed will show you that you have not been mistaken in your opinion of my principles; it is an answer to a pressing letter from the Duke of Portland. I send it to you in confidence; you will perceive from it that my word is gone to take no part in this business. I am sick of party. You are a young man, and zeal may become you, but I have lost my political zeal forever; My coalition has destroyed it. If a new administration is formed, it will be but a new coalition. Your political character is yet, in my opinion, unsullied. You are said, indeed, to be a deserter; but let it be remembered that the Whigs first deserted their own honour when they joined Lord North.'
When Mr. Pitt came into power, in opposition to a majority of the House of Commons, and the Parliament was in consequence dissolved, the bishop, with more zeal than discretion, thus addressed the new minister: 'Dear sir, will you allow me to say that I think you cannot continue minister with that high sense of honour which I wish you to do, whilst the resolution of the House of Commons respecting you stands unblotted from the journals.'
The late Earl of Lonsdale was so extensive a proprietor and patron of boroughs, that he returned nine members every Parliament, who were facetiously called 'Lord Lonsdale's nine pins.' One of the members thus designated having made a very extravagant speech in the House of Commons, was answered by Mr. Burke in a vein of the happiest sarcasm, which elicited from the House loud and continued cheers. Mr. Fox, entering the House just as Mr. Burke was sitting down, inquired of Sheridan what the House was cheering? 'Oh. nothing of consequence,' replied Sheridan, 'only Burke has knocked down one of Lord Lonsdale's nine pins.'
Mr. Curran was one of the many instances of individuals who have shone more at the bar than in the senate. He seemed sensible of this himself; and on being once asked whether he thought the Irish parliamentary reporters had done him justice, he replied, 'Whether the parliamentary reporters have done justice to my efforts in the House of Commons, it is not for me to say; but that the public have not, I am certain. You must consider that I was a person attached to a great and powerful party, whose leaders were men of importance in the state, totally devoted to those political pursuits from whence my mind was necessarily distracted by studies of a different description. They allotted me my station in debate, which being generally in the rear, I was seldom brought into action till towards the close of the engagement. After having toiled through the Four Courts for the entire day, I brought to the House of Commons a person enfeebled, and a mind exhausted. I was compelled to speak late in the night, and had to rise early for the judges in the morning; the consequence was, my efforts were but crude, and where others had the whole day for the correction of their speeches, I was left at the mercy of inability or inattention.'
Mr. Curran had, however, in some instances, little cause of complaint against the reporters, who appear to have done him justice. When Major Hobart was secretary to the viceroy, and had the management of the Irish House of Commons, his ranks were filled with a set of miserable supporters, whose talents only qualified them to talk against time, and to fire their amen shots at the question by the simple monosyllables ay or no. Curran, in one of his speeches, thus satirically commiserated them:
'For my part, Mr. Speaker, I never glance at the right honourable gentleman over the way (Major Hobart), without feelings of unaffected pity for him in the duties he has to perform in his arduous situation. When I behold an English secretary, day after day, marching down to this House from the castle, like a petty German clockmaker, with his wooden timepieces dangling at his back, in order to deposit them on their shelves in dumb show, until their manager shall pull the strings for their larums to go off, or their hurdy gurdies to play their appointed tunes, I feel for the honour of the country he came from, as well as for the debasement of my own.'
At another time he compared those servile members which were so numerous in the Irish Parliament, to 'mummies in a catacomb, who remained fixed in their niches until dragged out to give their votes.'
In 1805, when Mr. Abbot was Speaker, he called the attention of the House of Commons to an amendment which had been made by the Peers in the Pension Duty Bill, which consisted of the simple addition of the single, word 'that,' which appeared to have been omitted, and was now wanting to render the passage grammatical. The Speaker observed that 'it was his duty to call the attention of the House to this alteration, as when any amendment was made by the Lords in a money bill it was customary to exercise the most vigilant jealousy. When the amendment attached to the substance of a bill, the Commons, on no occasion, consented to it; but if it was evidently nothing more than a mere clerical error, it had not been unusual to adopt it.'
The Speaker stated an instance which occurred relative to an Act passed in the 38th of George the Third, entitled, 'An Act for granting an aid to his Majesty by a Land [tax].' The bill went up to the Lords, and it appearing there was some omission, they filled it up with the word 'tax.' The Speaker added that these matters, however slight in appearance, were entitled to grave and serious consideration; because the House must be aware that if trivial alterations were overlooked, it would be difficult to say how far subsequent ones might encroach on the privileges of the Commons.
Mr. Whitbread was one of the sternest and most undaunted senators of his day; no difficulty appalled him, and in the discharge of his duty he seemed quite regardless, so far as related to himself, whether he stood alone or had the support of the House. In the impeachment of Lord Melville, the management of which principally rested upon him, he displayed great ability. In closing the proceedings on this memorable trial, he combined a happy vein of satire with much powerful reasoning.
One of the counsel for Lord Melville had attempted to ridicule the fact of tracing the bank notes. Mr. Whitbread, in reply, observed, 'If the history of all the bank notes could have been unravelled, what a history might it not have disclosed. I have heard of the book called "Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea." Suppose some such communicative guinea could now be found; it might tell them it found its way from the Exchequer into the iron chest at the Navy Office; from thence, it might say, I expected to be transported to the pocket of some brave seaman, or seaman's widow. But judge of my surprise when I was taken out to pay a bill of the treasurer of the navy. Soon afterwards I found myself in the House of Commons, and, to my astonishment, heard Lord Melville say that he had applied me and ten thousand others to public purposes, but which he never would name. Subsequent to that, when I had made a few more transactions, I found myself in Westminster Hall, in the pocket of a counsellor, who was pleading the cause of Lord Melville, and strictly endeavouring to controvert both the law and the fact; but what surprised me most was to hear another counsellor, who professed to be on the same side, contradict his colleague point blank.'
In alluding to the conversation which was stated to have passed between Lord Melville and his secretary, Mr. Trotter, Mr. Whitbread observed that the latter would not recollect any of the conversations with precision; it was not to be doubted that they understood each other. 'There are,' said Mr. Whitbread, 'many modes of communicating ideas, independent of words. When our immortal bard represents King John as wishing the death of his nephew Arthur, without daring to speak his wishes direct to Hubert, he thus addresses him;
"If that thou couldst see without eyes,
Hear without thine ears, and make reply
Without a tongue, using conceit alone;
Without eye's tears, and harmful sound of words,
Then, in despite of bloodshed, watchful day,
I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts."'
Few Speakers of the House of Commons were more decidedly popular, and that for a long period, than the Right Honourable Charles Abbot, now Lord Colchester. 'To knowledge the most extensive,' said Sir William Scott, on moving his first reelection into the office of Speaker, 'he has added principles the most strictly consonant with the genius of our excellent constitution. Public decorum he has ever made consistent with the mildness of private intercourse. Dignity in his official situation has never been found unmixed with the most bland and engaging manners: and every expectation formed of him has been amply realized.'
It is not a little to his praise, that during a period of more than seven years, in which Mr. Abbot held the important office of Speaker, no member of any party ever accused him of the slightest prejudice or partiality; and the same independence which he manifested towards individuals, he exercised on public questions, whenever he was called upon for his opinion or decision. When the question of Lord Melville's guilt had been discussed in the House of Commons, and put to the vote, the numbers were exactly equal. The Speaker, as in all such cases is necessary, was called upon to decide, when Mr. Abbot, after expressing the reason for his vote, in a short, but comprehensive speech, decided, in the first instance, on the guilt and consequent prosecution of Lord Melville.
A Speaker of the House of Commons has very few opportunities of displaying his oratorical powers; but Mr. Abbot had given evidence of his talents, before he was called to the chair, and on some occasions afterwards. When the bill for emancipating the Catholics, in 1813, had been twice read, and the House of Commons resolved itself into a committee, Mr. Abbot opposed it with such force and eloquence, as made a manifest impression in the House, and is believed to have been the sole cause of the bill being rejected in its third stage through the House.
A very spirited debate, as far as relates to warmth of feeling, and smartness of retort, took place on Mr. Creevey's motion respecting the ministerial pensions in the House of Commons, on the 26th of June, 1822. In the course of his speech, Mr. Creevey thus noticed an observation of the Marquess of Londonderry, on the debate relative to ambassadors' pensions. '"What," said the noble marquess, "would you disvigour the monarchy by going into a committee?" I am at a loss to know how the monarchy could be more disvigoured than by the proceedings of the committee. The noble lord may talk as long as he pleases of disvigouring. (A laugh) Aye, disvigouring! The term is not mine, I borrowed it from the vocabulary of the noble marquess, which is so rich in novelties in the English language.'
Allusion having been made to the pension of £3000 a year to Lord Sidmouth, on his retirement from office, Mr. H. G. Bennet declared, that from the hapless day when his lordship quitted the chair of that House to become a Prime Minister of England (for which situation he was no more fit than any Of the door-keepers of the House), down to the present time, he had done nothing to deserve the reward which had been bestowed upon him.
The honourable gentleman then alluded to the conduct of Mr. Bankes, whom he designated as a friend to reform in little things, but an enemy to economy and reform in matters of importance.
Mr. Banks declared that this attack upon him was unfounded; and he would appeal to the whole course of his parliamentary conduct, against such an insinuation, which, in justice to himself, he must term false.
Mr. Bennet rose, and said, that with every possible contumely, he returned the word 'false,' in every sense in which it was used by the honourable member who had preceded him.
The Marquess of Londonderry defended the wisdom and vigour of his noble friend (Lord Sidmouth) in his public capacity. It was with feelings of disgust that he heard his noble friend compared to one of the doorkeepers of the House. He could not help expressing his reprobation of language the most disgusting and disgraceful he had ever heard within the walls of Parliament.
Mr. Brougham immediately rose, and said, 'I protest, sir, against the tone and language in which the noble lord has presumed to address a representative of the people in this House. I protest against the principle of this language: and I am surprised how any minister should dare to use it.'
The Marquess of Londonderry rose amidst loud cheering on the part of the Opposition, and cries of 'Order,' 'order,' 'Chair,' 'chair,' from the Ministerial benches. He submitted that the word, 'dare,' must allude to something which had been said inconsistent with Parliamentary usage. But in protesting against expressions of his, the honourable member should take care that he did not himself violate the orders of the House.
The Speaker considered that the word 'dare' was used in the warmth of debate, without offensive intention.
Mr. Brougharn said, 'Sir, I should bow to the decision of the chair, if given against me, with the same respectful deference that I would now return thanks for its decision in my favour, if indeed thanks could be required for the performance of a duty. Every man who heard the expression I used, in reply to the extraordinary language of the noble lord, must have taken it in the same sense which you, sir, have done, to have been used without any personally offensive intention. I, sir, used the term, when I heard a minister of the crown presuming (for I must not now use a harsher weird) to charge a representative of the people with using language disgusting and disgraceful; but I will repeat the sense of the term, though it may not be permitted to use the sound; that whether it be presuming, or venturing, or pleasing (for to such critics of words, I will give the whole vocabulary of the English language, such as it is understood by those who speak it; and to him who does not, I will give his own vocabulary) I and I will say, that in this House, no man ever before heard a minister of the crown using such epithets as disgusting and disgraceful, as applied to the observations of an honourable member, and contend that the use of such language by a minister of the crown, is quite new in the House of Commons; nor shall it ever pass unnoticed while I have a seat in the House, or a tongue to proclaim the sentiments of my heart.'
The Marquess of Londonderry said, he had used the words 'disgraceful' and 'disgusting,' in a Parliamentary sense only; and though the expressions were strong, he could not persuade himself that they were any way misapplied.
The name of Wilberforce is associated with the best offices of humanity; and with one of the most glorious triumphs that persevering eloquence ever accomplished - the abolition of the slave trade.
It was soon after the meeting of Parliament in 1787, that Mr. Wilberforce first gave notice of his intention to bring forward a measure respecting the slave trade. His speech was replete with eloquence, and he described this horrible traffic in the most glowing terms.
'Never, said he, was a more complete system of injustice and cruelty exhibited to the world. To whatever portion of this odious traffic you turn your eyes, you find neither consolation nor relief. The horrors attendant on tearing the Africans from their native country, are only to be compared with the horrors of the voyage; the latter are only to be equalled by the horrors of the colonial slavery itself. By a merciful dispensation of Providence, in the moral as well as the physical order of things, some degree of good generally accompanies evil: hurricanes purify the air; persecution excites enthusiasm for truth; pride, vanity, and profusion, frequently contribute, indirectly, to the happiness of mankind. There is nothing, however odious, that has not its palliative; the savage is hospitable: the brigand is intrepid; violence is, in general, exempt from perfidy; and daring iniquity from meanness. But there is no benign concomitant here; it belongs to this hateful traffic to deteriorate alike the good and the bad, and even to pollute crime itself; it is a state of warfare undignified by courage; it is a state of peace, in which there is no security against devastation and massacre. There you find the vices of polished society, without the delicacy of manners by which they are tempered; the primitive savageness of man, stripped of all its innocence; perverseness, pure and complete, full and finished, destitute of every honourable sentiment, of every advantage that can be contemplated without indignation, or acknowledged without the deepest shame.'
From this time, to 1806, when Mr. W. succeeded in erasing from British history that stain to our national character, his whole life may be read in the progress of the abolition of the slave trade.
Of all the debates to which this subject gave rise, that on the 2nd of April, 1793, was the most eloquent and interesting. The number of petitions on the table of the House of Commons, amounted to five hundred and eight; this stimulated and encouraged the friends of the measure; the want of success hitherto seemed to have awakened all the energies, and to have aroused every honourable feeling, of which the human heart is capable. The speeches of Mr. Wilberforce. Mr. Fox, and Mr. Pitt, appeared so insuperable, that it was imagined the question would have been carried by acclamation. Eighty persons were only found to vote against the total abolition. But by a skilful manoeuvre of Mr. Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville, the word 'gradual,' was introduced into the motion before it was passed.
Mr. Wilberforce, after enumerating the evils attached to the slave trade, and describing the interest which the subject had excited in several parts of Europe, combated the arguments of those individuals who condemned the inhuman traffic on the score of religion, justice, and humanity, but vindicated it as consistent with the national interest. 'I trust,' said he, 'that no such argument will be used this night, for what is it but to establish a competition between God and mammon, and to adjudge the preference to the latter? What but to dethrone the moral governor of the world, and to fall down and worship the idol of interest? What a manifesto to surrounding nations! What a lesson to our own people! Come, then, ye nations of the earth, and learn a new code of morality from the Parliament of Great Britain. We have discarded an old prejudice; we have discovered that religion, and justice, and humanity, are mere rant and rhapsody! Why, Sir, these are principles which Epicurus would have rejected for their impiety, and Machiave and Borgia would have disclaimed as too infamous for avowal, and too injurious for the general happiness of mankind. If God, in his anger, would punish us for this formal renunciation of his authority, what severer vengeance could he inflict than a successful propagation of these accursed maxims? Consider what effects would follow from their universal prevalence; what scenes should we soon behold around us; in public affairs, breach of faith. and anarchy, and bloodshed: in private life, fraud, distrust, and perfidy, and whatever can degrade the public character, and poison the comforts of social life and domestic intercourse. Men must then retire to caves and deserts, and withdraw from a world become too bad to be endured.'
The exertions of Mr. Wilberforce in the cause of humanity endeared him to the public, and particularly to his constituents, the freeholders of Yorkshire, which he represented for nearly thirty years, and in the great contest which took place in 1807, a contest which is said to have cost upwards Of £300,000, his whole expenses were defrayed by public subscription! Nay, such was the public zeal manifested in his favour, that more than double the sum necessary for the purpose of supporting his election, immense as. it was, was raised in a few days, and one moiety was afterwards returned to the subscribers. A similar instance of popular favour in behalf of a candidate, has never occurred in the history of contested elections.
Mr. Canning made his debut in the House of Commons when in the twenty-second year of his age. Such were the hopes entertained of his talents, from the proofs of them which he had displayed at Eton and Oxford, that the late Sir Richard Worsley was prevailed upon to retire from the representation of the borough of Newton, expressly for the purpose of making room for him. Nearly a year, however, elapsed, before he delivered his maiden speech in the House; the subject of discussion being the treaty concluded between this country and the King of Sardinia; and after that period, he became a frequent and powerful speaker in favour of Mr. Pitt's administration.
On the retirement of Mr. Pitt from office, previous to the treaty of Amiens, Mr. Canning gave a marked proof of his gratitude and esteem for the fallen premier, by the wellknown song of 'The Pilot that weather'd the Storm,' which he composed for the anniversary of Mr. Pitt's birthday, May 29, 1802.
Whatever might have been Mr. Canning's value as an ally, it was when placed in opposition to the ministry for the time, that he made his weight in the House most felt and acknowledged. By his constant and severe attacks on the Addington administration, he did more than perhaps any other speaker of his party, to throw odium upon it, and pave the way for the return of 'the pilot' to the helm. It was in such bold terms as these that he arraigned the minister and his adherents.
'Away with the cant of measures, not men! the idle supposition that it is the harness, and not the horses, that draw the chariot along. No, sir; if the comparison must be made, if the distinction must be taken, men are everything; measures, comparatively nothing. I speak of times of difficulty and danger, when systems are shaken, when precedents and general rules of conduct fail. Then it is that not to that or this measure, however prudently devised, however blameless in execution, but to the energy and character of individuals, a state must he indebted for its salvation. Then it is that kingdoms rise or fall, in proportion as they are upheld, not by well-meant endeavours, laudable though they may be, but by commanding, overawing talents - by able men.
I do think that this is the time when the administration of the government ought to be in the ablest and fittest hands. I do not think that the hands in which it is now placed answer to that description. I do not pretend to conceal in what quarter I think that fitness most eminently resides.'
An honourable baronet having remarked that 'those only wished to displace the ministers who look for power, or emoluments, or honours, from their removal, Mr. Canning, in a happy vein of irony, retorted the imputation on the baronet; but gravely admonished' him in the words of Virgil:
'Litus ama; altum alii teneant.
'Keep thou close to the shore; let others venture on the deep.'
On the death of Mr. Pitt, and the succession of Mr. Fox to the place of his rival, Mr. Canning was again seen distinguishing himself in the ranks of opposition. It was to him the administration of that period was indebted for the sobriquet of 'All the Talents,' an appellation supposed to be so applicable to the pretensions of the persons who composed it, that it has remained ever since affixed to them by general consent.
Among the most celebrated of Mr. Canning's speeches was that on the Indemnity Bill, brought in to cover the proceedings of ministers under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, in 1818. 'As long,' say its admirers, 'as the English language exists, so long will this speech be read by the scholar and statesman with equal admiration and delight.' By others, however, it has been regarded as a very wicked piece of raillery; and in a well-known pamphlet to which it gave rise, entitled, 'A Letter to the Right Honourable George Canning,' attributed to a member of the opposition, the speech and the speaker were alike abused in a style so outrageous as to call for a particular sort of notice from Mr. Canning. The passages at which Mr. Canning might be supposed to feel most hurt were these:
'Certainly, sir, you found the legislative assembly more tractable than your sovereign, who has more than once repulsed your rude familiarity. His majesty, were he now on the throne, would recognise the frontless upstart who placed the hand of his sovereign on the seat of the wound which had been inflicted upon him, as the reward of his duplicity (alluding to the duel with Lord Castlereagh), and of him who had referred him to a brother minister with the indecent freedom of equal intimacy. When, sir, you placed the king's hand upon your thigh, when you told him you would send to Pembroke, you gave rise to a resentment such as would have affected your honest interests whilst the throne of England was filled by a gentleman. But I presume the silent rebuke if offended majesty was not sharp ennough to be felt by the coarseness of your texture: for the insult offered to those who should be the representatives of the people, and to the people themselves, is equally rude and familiar, and is ten times more overbearing in every respect than that which before offended your sovereign.
'In the House of Commons alone, you find yourself taken on your word, with no enquiries made; and when you display the whole deformity of a heart devoid of all just, generous, and gentlemanly feeling, and when you show by arts untried before, not only how despicable you are yourself, but how you despise all around you, you are not hissed to the ground (as you would infallibly have been had you ventured at such topics before a popular assembly); you are heard, you are encouraged, you are cheered; your inhuman taunts on the irons, and the infirmities of those who demand reparation for injuries they have endured from a bloody Police, your ridicule of the prisoner and the oppressed, are received with shouts of laughter - with loud shouts of laughter.'
'Hampden was no assassin, but what think you he would have said to a minister of Charles I.? "You are not protected by your personal insignificance; the power, almost absolute, which has been, and may again be placed in your hands, may make you a respectable victim; and be assured, sir, that if I should ever be a prisoner of state, and after being maimed by your gaolers, should be assaulted by your jokes, I will put you to death with the same deliberation as I now give you this timely warning." This is no idle, though it is only a defensive menace; nor is the resolution confined to one individual.
Idem tricenti juravimus, 'YOUR COUNTRYMAN.'
A copy of this pamphlet having been sent to Mr. Canning, he immediately addressed the following spirited letter to the anonymous author:
'Gloucester Lodge, April 10, 1818.
'Sir, I received early in the last week the copy of your pamphlet, which you (I take for granted) had the attention to send me.
'Soon after, I was informed, on the authority of your publisher, that you had withdrawn the whole impression from him, with the view (as was supposed) of suppressing the publication.
'I since learn, however, that the pamphlet, though not sold, is circulated under blank covers.
'I learn this from (among others) the gentleman to whom the pamphlet has been industriously attributed, but who has voluntarily absolutely denied to me that he has any knowledge of it, or of its author.
'To you, sir, whoever you may be, I address myself thus directly, for the purpose of expressing to you my opinion that you are a liar and a slanderer, and want courage only to be an assassin.
'I have only to add, that no man knows of my writing to you; that I shall maintain the same reserve as long as I have an expectation of hearing from you in your own name; and that I shall not give up that expectation till tomorrow (Saturday) night.
'The same address which brought me your pamphlet will bring any letter safe to my hands.
'I am, sir, your humble servant,'
'For the author of "A Letter to the Right Hon. George Canning." [Mr. Ridgway is requested to forward this letter to its destination.] The writer of the letter, however, chose to remain deaf to this honourable appeal.