A second question regarding the late Minister became immediately necessary. He had died deeply in debt. It was one of the fine qualities of Pitt that he never had a love of money, or an ambition to create a great estate at the expense of the country, like too many statesmen. At an early period of Pitt's ministerial career, though a bachelor, he was so hopelessly in debt, that his friend, Robert Smith, afterwards Baron Carrington, had looked into his affairs, and declared that, of all scenes of domestic robbery by servants, and wild charges by tradesmen, he had never witnessed anything to compare with it. The financial management of his own income and that of the nation were just on a par in Pitt's case. He let his own money go like water, and he would have flung any quantity of the nation's property away on his quixotic scheme of propping up the thoroughly rotten and hopeless condition of the Continental governments. A strong effort was now made by such of Pitt's creditors as had advanced money to him, to be repaid by the nation. In this endeavour none were more eager than his great friends and relatives, who had been enabled by him to draw a hundredfold from the nation what they had lent him. Wilberforce, however, proposed that they should not only forego their individual claims, but should contribute each a moderate sum towards the raising of forty thousand pounds, which would pay his tradesmen; but here the great relatives and friends became dumb and motionless. Spencer Perceval offered a thousand pounds, and one or two others made some offers; but the appeal was in vain, and a motion was proposed by Mr. Cartwright, on the 3rd of February, that the nation should pay this sum. This was carried at once.Lord Wellington, notwithstanding that the destruction of these armies, on which the defence of Andalusia and the provinces of the south depended, completely proved the justice of his statements to the Junta, was deeply chagrined by the circumstance. "I lament," he said, in his despatches, "that a cause which promised so well a few weeks ago, should have been so completely lost by the ignorance, presumption, and mismanagement of those to whose direction it was entrusted. I declare that, if they had preserved their two armies, or even one of them, the cause was safe. The French could have sent no reinforcements which could have been of any use; time would have been gained; the state of affairs would have daily improved; all the chances were in our favour; and, in the first moment of weakness, occasioned by any diversion on the Continent, or by the growing discontent of the French themselves with the war, the French armies must have been driven out of Spain." Lord Wellington's position was, by the destruction of these armies, left totally open, and he had for some time resolved to retire wholly into Portugal, and had been planning that system of defence which afterwards proved so astonishing to the French. Though he was left with about twenty thousand men to maintain himself against the whole French host in Spain, he never for a moment contemplated quitting the Peninsula, nor despaired of the final result. The experienced eye of Lord Wellington, after the battle of Vimiera, had, at a glance, seen the admirable capability of the mountain ranges of Torres Vedras for the construction of impregnable lines of defence for Lisbon. So far from holding any notion of being driven to his ships, like Sir John Moore, he was satisfied that, by fortifying the defiles through these hills, and keeping our ships on the Tagus and on the coast, he could defy all the armies of France. He proceeded now to Lisbon, where he arrived on the 10th of October, reconnoitred the hills, and, having done so, left with Colonel Fletcher, of the Engineers, a clearly written statement of all that he desired to be done, so as to make the double line of defences complete: to erect batteries on each side of the defiles through which the necessary roads ran, to erect breastworks and entrenchments where required, and to break down the bridges in front of them. He ascertained the precise time it would require to accomplish all this, and, ordering all to be carried on with the utmost quickness, he returned to Badajos, and next proceeded to Seville, to join his brother in urging on the Spanish Government the necessary measures for the defence of the country. After visiting Cadiz with his brother, he returned to his headquarters, where he had scarcely arrived on the 17th of November, when he received the news of the total overthrow of the Spaniards at Oca?a. He then made a deliberate and orderly retreat from Spain, crossing the Tagus at Abrantes, where he left General Hill with his division, supported by General Fane's brigade of heavy horse, and marched to Almeida, and quartered his army there in a more healthy situation. His troops were now also well supplied with provisions. During the long interval of repose—that is, till the following May—Wellington actively employed himself in putting life and order into the commissariat, baggage, and conveyance departments; and General Beresford, to whom the important function of disciplining the Portuguese troops was assigned, laboured in that with such effect, that he produced at the next campaign troops which, led by British officers, and mixed with British regiments, fought admirably. The Portuguese were wise enough to allow the British commander full control, and by this means they avoided those defeats and calamities which fell long and heavily on the Spaniards.
On the 23rd of March the Allied sovereigns, including that of the United Kingdom, signed, by their plenipotentiaries, a new treaty of alliance offensive and defensive, on the same principles as the Treaty of Chaumont, entered into in March, 1814. The Duke of Wellington then hastened away to Belgium to muster his forces there—for Belgium, as it had been so often before, was sure to become the battle-ground on this occasion. So early as the 5th of April he announced that he had placed thirteen thousand four hundred men in the fortresses of Belgium, and had besides twenty-three thousand British and Hanoverian troops, twenty thousand Dutch and Belgian, and sixty pieces of artillery. Unfortunately, the bulk of his victorious army of the Peninsula had been sent to the inglorious contest with America, where a good naval blockade would have been the most effectual kind of warfare. But he observed that Buonaparte would require some time to assemble a strong force, and this time must be employed by Britain to collect a correspondingly powerful army. The Duke, with accustomed energy, not only applied himself with all his strength to this object, but to stimulating, by letters, the Allied sovereigns to hasten up their quotas, some of them notoriously the slowest nations in the world.The statutory provision for all who cannot support themselves had now existed for upwards of 280 years. There was no considerable increase of population in England from the period when the Poor Laws were established up to the middle of the eighteenth century. Its people have been distinguished for their industry, thrift, and forethought. No other nation has furnished such unquestionable proofs of the prevalence of a provident and independent spirit. From the year 1601, when the Act 43 Elizabeth, the foundation of the old code of Poor Laws, was put in force, to the commencement of the war with Napoleon, there had been scarcely any increase of pauperism. In 1815 there were 925,439 individuals in England and Wales, being about one-eleventh of the then existing population, members of friendly societies, formed for the express purpose of affording protection to the members in sickness and old age, and enabling them to subsist without resorting to the parish fund. It may be asked, How was this state of things compatible with the right to support at the expense of the parish which the law gave to the destitute? The answer is, that the exercise of that right was subjected to the most powerful checks, and restricted in every possible way. In 1723 an Act was passed authorising the church-wardens and overseers, with the consent of the parishioners, to establish a workhouse in each parish; and it was at the same time enacted that the overseers should be entitled to refuse relief to all who did not choose to accept it in the workhouse, and to submit to all its regulations. In consequence of this Act workhouses were erected in many parishes, and they had an immediate and striking effect in reducing the number of paupers. Many who had previously received pensions from the parish preferred depending on their own exertions rather than take up their abode in the workhouse.
THE AGENTS OF BRITAIN AND SWEDEN SIGNING THE TREATY AGAINST NAPOLEON. (See p. 7.)
[See larger version]We must return from victory abroad to discontent at home. On the 28th of January, 1817, the Prince Regent opened the fifth Session of Parliament. In his speech he expressed indignation at "the attempts which had been made to take advantage of the distresses of the country for the purpose of exciting a spirit of sedition and violence;" and he declared himself determined to put down these attempts by stern measures. The seconder of the Address in the Commons had the good sense to believe that the demagogues and their acts would die of themselves. Certainly, if the demagogues had no cause on which to base their efforts, those efforts must have proved fruitless; and the wisdom of Government consisted in seriously inquiring whether there were such causes. To attempt to insure peace by smothering distress is the old remedy of tyrants, and is like heaping fuel on fire to put it out. Whilst this debate was proceeding, a message arrived from the Lords to announce that the Regent, on his return from the House, had been insulted, and some missile thrown through the windows of his carriage. The House agreed upon an Address to the Regent on this event, and then adjourned.[See larger version]
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The majority obtained on their Irish policy was about the number the Ministry could count upon on every vital question. It was not sufficiently large to exempt them from the imputation of holding office on sufferance; but if they were defeated, and were succeeded by the Conservatives, the new Government, it was plain, could not hope to exist even on those terms; while Lord Melbourne had this advantage over Sir Robert Peel, that he was cordially supported by the Sovereign. Having escaped the Irish ordeal, it might be supposed that he was safe for a considerable time. But another question arose very soon after, on which the Cabinet sustained a virtual defeat. The Assembly in Jamaica had proved very refractory, and, in order to avoid the evil consequences of its perversity, Mr. Labouchere, on the 9th of April, brought forward a measure which was a virtual suspension of the constitution of the island for five years, vesting the government in the Governor and Council, with three commissioners sent from England to assist in ameliorating the condition of the negroes, improving prison discipline, and establishing a system of poor laws. This measure was denounced by the whole strength of the Opposition. The question may be thus briefly stated. Before the Act of Emancipation in 1833, all punishments were inflicted on slaves by the domestics of the master, who was unwilling to lose the benefit of their services by sending them to prison. But when emancipation took place, that domestic power was terminated, and new prison regulations became necessary. The Colonial Legislature, however, persistently refused to adopt any, and continued a course of systematic resistance to the will of the supreme Government, whose earnest and repeated recommendations had been utterly disregarded. Under the apprenticeship system negroes were treated worse than they were under the old condition of slavery, because the planters knew that the time of enfranchisement was at hand. But though, when the hour of liberty, August 1st, 1840, was seen to be very near, the Jamaica Assembly voluntarily brought the apprenticeship system to a termination, they accompanied the measure with an angry protest against any interference by the British Parliament. It was contended, on the part of the Government, that if such a state of things were permitted to exist, the authority of Great Britain over its colonies would speedily be lost, and every little island that owed its political existence to the protection afforded by the Imperial Government, would, without scruple, set its power at defiance. Such being the state of the case, it might be supposed that no serious objection would be raised to the course adopted, in the interests of humanity and good government. But the Conservatives seized the opportunity for another party contest, and became quite vehement in their defence of the constitutional rights of the Jamaica planters. The debate was protracted for several nights, and counsel against the Bill were heard at great length. Eventually the division took place at five in the morning on the 6th of May, when the numbers were 294 to 289, giving the Government a majority of only five, which was regarded as tantamount to a defeat. On the 7th of May, therefore, Lord John Russell announced that Ministers had tendered their resignation, which was accepted by the Queen. He assigned as the reason for this step that the vote which had passed must weaken the authority of the Crown in the colonies, by giving support to the contumacy of Jamaica, and encouraging other colonies to follow its bad example. This obvious consideration rendered more painfully apparent the weakness of the Government, arising from division among its supporters; for if anything could have induced the different sections of the Liberal party to suppress their differences, it would have been the necessity of interposing, in the manner proposed by the Government, to shield the unhappy negroes from the oppression of their exasperated taskmasters. Indeed, in spite of various attempts to patch up the Cabinet, its members were at hopeless cross-purposes.These things did not pass without remark by the Opposition. Pulteney and Bolingbroke discussed them with much vigour and acrimony in The Craftsman. It was asserted in the House that the public burthens had increased instead of diminished since 1716; but Walpole contended that there had been a reduction of debt to the amount of two million five hundred thousand pounds; and his statement was supported by a large majority, and it was laid before the king. The Opposition then demanded an explanation of the expenditure of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds for secret service money. It was well understood that Walpole had used the greater part of it in buying up that triumphant majority which enabled him to carry the most obnoxious measures. The demands of the Opposition were so vehement, and the abuse was so glaring, that even Walpole was embarrassed how to get rid of the question. He could only recur to the old plea, that the money had been spent on services highly advantageous to the State, but which could not properly be made public. Suddenly events lifted him out of his difficulty. News arrived that the King of Spain, who declined to ratify the preliminaries of peace entered into at Vienna, on hearing of the death of George I., hoping for a revolution, had now given way, and had issued what was called the Act of Pardo, ratifying the preliminaries, and referring all remaining difficulties to be settled at a congress to be held at Soissons.
This letter, though marked "private and confidential," was, like the Duke's letter to the same prelate, made public, and became the subject of comment in the Association and in the press, which tended still more to embarrass the question by irritating the king and the Duke, and furnishing exciting topics to the enemies of the Catholic cause. The Marquis of Anglesey, indeed, from the time he went to Ireland, held the strongest language to the Government as to the necessity of carrying the measure. At a subsequent period he expressed a wish that his opinions should be made fully known to the king and his Ministers, because they could then better judge of his fitness for carrying into effect the measures they might decide upon adopting. On the 31st of July he wrote:—"I will exert myself to keep the country quiet, and put down rebellion under any circumstances; but I will not consent to govern this country much longer under the existing law."Another French fleet, under Admiral Willaumez, left Brest at the same time with that of Lessigues, bound for the Cape of Good Hope, to assist the Dutch troops in defending it. The British, however, having taken it before his arrival, he went cruising about and picking up such stray British merchantmen as he could meet with between the continents of Africa and South America. He then stood away for the West Indies, hoping to be able to destroy the British shipping in the ports of Barbadoes. Failing in that, he made for Martinique, which was still in the possession of the French. Willaumez had but six sail of the line, and the English admirals, Sir John Borlase Warren, who had the same number and a frigate, and Sir Richard Strachan, who had seven sail of the line and two frigates, were in eager quest of him. Meanwhile, Willaumez was attacked by a terrible tempest, and then chased by Strachan in the Chesapeake. Of his six ships of the line he took home only two, and was obliged to burn the British merchantmen that he had taken.The Swedes cursed the less than half assistance of their British allies, and Gustavus endeavoured to fight his way without them. He continued to win victory after victory on land; but Catherine soon brought down on his squadron of galleys, which attended his march along the coast to keep up his supplies, an overwhelming fleet of galleys of her own. A desperate battle ensued, but the Swedish galley-fleet was at length overcome. Gustavus was thus greatly embarrassed, and compelled to stand merely on the defensive, till it was time to go into winter quarters. He continued for twelve months to do battle with Russia, and, though with insufficient forces, threatened the very capital of that country. A little support from Britain, Prussia, and Holland, would have enabled Sweden to regain its territories on the eastern shores of the Baltic, to curb the power of Russia, and to assume that station in the North which is essential to the peace of Europe. These countries, however, had not the statesmanship to appreciate this point, or the friendly feeling to effect it, and Gustavus was left to struggle on alone.
The news, when it reached England, produced a transport of exultation. Bells were rung, cannon fired, and great rejoicings made, anticipatory of fresh tidings of wonderful success. But very different was the reality. Wentworth called on Vernon to bombard Carthagena from the harbour, whilst he assailed it on land; but Vernon replied that he could not get near enough to attack the town effectually, and that Wentworth must attempt the reduction of the Fort San Lazaro, which commanded the town, and might be taken by escalade. This was attempted, and while our men were thus standing under a murderous fire, they discovered, to their consternation, that their scaling ladders were too short. But the escalade was persisted in: they remained splicing their ladders, and a detachment of Grenadiers, under Colonel Grant, reached the top of a rampart; but Grant was instantly killed, and the Grenadiers hurled back over the wall. Still, the bull-dog spirit of the English made them persist in this desperate attempt, till six hundred—that is, half of them, lay dead, when they drew off.In the same field was to be found the poet Ebenezer Elliott, the "Corn Law Rhymer." By his addresses to his fellow-townsmen of Sheffield, his remonstrances with the infatuated followers of O'Connor, who fancied that their own cause was opposed to that of the Manchester League, and by his powerful "Corn Law Rhymes," Elliott rendered services to the movement of the highest value. A good specimen of Elliott's powers of versification is afforded by the following song:—
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