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ART. V. Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Edited by the Executors of his Son. Vols. III. and IV. 8vo. London: 1839.
THE HE antagonist whom Lord Chatham first encountered on his entering into public life, was the veteran Walpole, who instinctively dreaded him the moment he heard his voice; and having begun by exclaiming,- We must muzzle that terrible Cornet of horse!' either because he found him not to be silenced by promotion, or because he deemed punishment in this case better than blandishment, ended by taking his commission from, and making him an enemy for ever. It was a blunder of the first order; it was of a kind, too, which none were less apt to commit: perhaps it was the most injudicious thing, possibly the only very injudicious thing he ever did; certainly it was an error for which he paid the full penalty before he ceased to lead the House or Commons and govern the country.
Few men have ever reached and maintained for so many years the highest station which the citizen of a free state can hold, who have enjoyed more power than Sir Robert Walpole, and have left behind them less just cause of blame, or more for which his country has to thank him. Of Washington, indeed, if we behold in him a different character, one of a far more exalted description, there is this to be said, both that his imperishable fame rests rather upon the part he bore in the Revolution, than on his administration of the government which he helped to create; and that his unequalled virtue and self-denial never could be practised in circumstances which, like those of Walpole, afforded no temptation to ambition, because they gave no means of usurping larger powers than the law bestowed: consequently, his case cannot be compared, in any particular, with that of a prime minister under an established monarchical constitution. But Walpole held for many years the reins of government in England under two princes, neither of them born or bred in the country-held them during the troubles of a disputed succession, and held them while European politics were complicated with various embarrassments; and yet he governed at home without any inroads upon public liberty; he administered the ordinary powers of the constitution without requiring the dangerous help of extreme temporary rigour; he preserved tranquillity at home without pressing upon the people; and he maintained peace abroad without any sacrifice either of the interests or the honour of the country. If no brilliant feats of improvement in our laws or in the condition of the state were attempted ;-if no striking movements of external policy were executed;-at least all was kept safe and
quiet in every quarter, and the irrepressible energies of national industry had the fullest scope afforded them during a lengthened season of repose, which in those days of foreign war and domestic levy,' was deemed a fortune hardly to be hoped for, and of which the history of the country had never offered any example. Walpole was a man of an ancient, honourable, and affluent family, one of the first in the county of Norfolk, to whose possessions he succeeded while yet too young for entering into the church, the profession he was destined to had an elder brother lived. Rescued from that humbler fortune, (in which, however, he always said he would have risen to the Primacy,) he had wellnigh fallen into one more obscure-the life of a country gentleman; in which he might have whiled away his time like his ancestors, between the profession of a sportsman pursued with zeal, and that of a farmer always failing, because always more than half neglected by him who unites in his own person both landlord and tenant. The dangers of the Protestant succession at the close of King William's reign, excited his attention to political matters upon his entrance into Parliament. The death of the Duke of Gloucester, Princess Anne's son, had alarmed both the illustrious prince on the throne and the liberal party in general; the Tories had thrown every obstacle in the way of the Act of Settlement, by which the King was anxiously endeavouring to bequeath the freedom he had conquered for his adopted country; they had only introduced it in the hopes of its miscarrying; and the near balance of par ties in Parliament, when the Abjuration Oath was carried by a majority of one, (188 to 187,) evinced too clearly that in the country the decided majority were for the exiled family. It is easy to conceive how greatly the having commenced his public life at such a crisis, must have attracted him towards state affairs,* and how lasting an impression the momentous question that first engaged his attention must have produced upon his political sentiments in after life. Soon after came the great question of privilege, the case of the Aylesbury men, arising out of the action of Ashby and White; and here he, with the other leading Whigs-the Cowpers, the Kings, the Jekyls, the Cavendishes-took a decided part for the general law of the land, against the extravagant doctrines of privilege maintained by the Tories. Sacheverell's triala Whig folly, which he privately did all in his power to preventcompleted his devotion to political life: he was one of the managers, and was exposed to his share of the popular odium into which
*He seconded the motion of Sir Charles Hedges for extending the oath to ecclesiastical persons. It was carried without a division.
all the promoters of that ill-advised proceeding not unnaturally fell. The Church party were so powerful, that the mob was on their side as well as the Queen's Court; and this incident in Whig history, described by Bolingbroke as having a parson to roast and burning their hands in the fire, made Walpole dread that fire ever after; for it is not more certain that the share which he successfully commenced his public life by taking in the Act of Settlement, gave a strong Whig bias to his after life, than it is that the Sacheverell case gave him a constitutional abhorrence of religious controversy, and an invincible repugnance to touch any question that could connect itself with church or with sectarian clamour. Through his whole public life, he betrayed a lurking dread of any thing on which the religious sentiments of the community could be brought to bear; as if aware that these being subjects on which men feel rather than reason, it is impossible to calculate beforehand on the course public opinion may take upon them, or fix bounds to the excitement they may produce. This, and not any indifference to the great cause of toleration, always kept him from seeking securities which there is every reason to think he would naturally have wished to obtain against the HighChurch party, and in favour of the Sectaries.
The sagacity of such men as Godolphin and Marlborough early recommended Walpole to their favour; and with the latter, to whom he owed his first appointment of Secretary at War, his intercourse was always intimate and confidential. When a vile court intrigue saved France from being undone by the victories of that great man; when what St Simon calls the Miracle de Londres,' unexpectedly rescued Louis XIV. from his doom; when, as Frederick II. many years after said, Blenheim, Ramilies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, were all unable to defend him against detraction, and the French King was lost had the intrigues of a mistress of the robes and a bedchamber woman suffered the great Captain to remain two years longer in powerWalpole threw up his place with the Duke, and nobly refused to join some shuffling place-seeking Whigs, who were talked over to remain under the Tories, by Harley and St John. This was an offence not to be forgiven; his aggravation of it, by boldly defending the conduct of Marlborough against the slanderous attacks of the adverse faction, produced the charges against him of corruption while at the War-Office; and he was sent to the Tower upon an accusation of having received L.900 from a contractor, was expelled the House of Commons, though never either impeached or prosecuted, and, on being re-elected in the same Parliament, was declared ineligible by a majority of the House.
That Walpole, through the whole of this proceeding, was regarded as the victim of party rancour; that, but for the factious
spirit of the day, he never would have been accused; that nothing can be less decisive against any one than a vote carried by a majority of twelve in a full House of Commons, in which many of the adverse party voted with the accused, and many more refused to vote at all; and that the greatest distrust of their case was shown by the accusers in never uniting to institute judicial proceedings of any kind-may all be easily admitted; and yet there rests a stain upon this part of Walpole's public conduct. For what was his defence? Not to deny that the contractors had given two notes, one of 500 guineas and the other of as many pounds, (of which all but 100 were paid;) but to affirm that they were only paid through Walpole's hand to a friend named Mann, whom he had meant to favour by giving him a share of the contract, and who had agreed to take so much for his share of the profit. Mann was dead; the contractors had made the notes payable to Walpole in ignorance of Mann's name, and only knowing he was put upon them as a friend of the minister; and thus a case of fraud and suspicion appeared against the latter, which the unfortunate accident of the former's death prevented from being clearly removed. Now, that such a proceeding, admitting it to have been as Walpole himself describes it, would in our purer days have been deemed most incorrect, nay, sufficient to stain the character of any minister, cannot be doubted. In those days the course of office seems to have sanctioned such impropriety; and that no man was ever injured by having so behaved, any more than the reputations of French ministers seem to be the worse for the wear they undergo on the Stock Exchange, must be obvious from the fact of Walpole having, in four years after, been placed at the head of the Treasury, though without the place of Premier; and afterwards become, and continued head of the government for nearly the whole residue of his life, with no diminution of his influence or his estimation in consequence of the transaction at the War-Office, and with hardly any allusion ever made to that remarkable passage of his life, during the many years of the most factious opposition which his long administration encountered, when, for want of the materials of attack, it was seriously urged against him that so long a term of power by one man was detrimental to the state, if not dangerous to the constitution. Nothing can more strikingly show the great improvement which the principles of public men have undergone during the last hundred years.
When he quitted office, a charge of a different complexion, though connected with pecuniary malversation, was made against the veteran statesman. A sum of between seventeen and eighteen thousand pounds had been received by him upon two Treasury orders, two days before he resigned, in February 1741-2; and to
raise the money before the Exchequer forms could be gone through, they were pawned with the officer of the Bank. Now, Walpole never would give a detailed explanation of this transaction, but began to draw up a vindication of himself, alleging that the money was taken, with the king's approbation, for the public service. This paper is extant but unfinished; and it consists of a clear and distinct statement of the course of the Exchequer in issuing money;-from which the inference is, that no one can appropriate any sum to himself, in defiance of, or escape from so many guards and checks. This, however, is a lame defence, when the receipt of the money by him is admitted. The reason offered for his desisting from the completion of the paper is, that he must either leave it incomplete, or betray the secret service of the crown. And it may be admitted, that, except the suspicion arising from the date of the transaction, there is nothing in it more than an ordinary dealing with secret service money.
The general charge of peculation grounded on the comparison of his expenditure with his means, appears more difficult to meet. With a fortune originally of about L.2000 a-year, and which never rose to more than double that amount, he lived with a profusion amounting to extravagance; in so much that one of his yearly meetings at Houghton, the Congress' as it was called, in autumn, and which lasted six or eight weeks, and was attended by all his supporters in either House and by their friends, cost him L.3000 a-year. His buildings and purchases were estimated at L.200,000, and to this must be added L.40,000 for pictures. Now, it is true that for many years he had his own official income of L.3000, with L.2000 more of a sinecure, and his family had between L.3000 and L.4000 more, in places of the like description. Still, if the expensive style of his living be considered, and that his income was at the very outside only L12,000 clear, including the places of his sons, it is quite impossible to understand how above L.200,000, or nearly twice the average value of his whole private property, could have been accumulated by savings. His incumbrances were only paid off by his wife's fortune; his gains upon the fortunate sale of his South-Sea stock, just before the fall, could hardly account for the sum, although he states in a letter to one of his friends, that he got a thousand per cent on what he purchased. On the whole, we must be content to admit that some cloud hangs over this part of his history; and that the generally prevailing attacks against him in this quarter, have not been so successfully repulsed.
It has been much more universally believed, that he carried on
* L.2000 granted in reversion only, did not fall in till 1737.