Altered Position of the Ministry — The Elections — First Partition Treaty — Domestic Discontent — Littleton chosen Speaker — King’s Speech; Proceedings relating to the Amount of the Land Force — Unpopularity of Montague — Bill for Disbanding the Army — The King’s Speech — Death of the Electoral Prince of Bavaria. — Renewed Discussion of the Army Question — Naval Administration — Commission on Irish Forfeitures. — Prorogation of Parliament — Changes in the Ministry and Household — Spanish Succession — Darien
THE Gazette which informed the public that the King had set out for Holland announced also the names of the first members returned, in obedience to his writ, by the constituent bodies of the Realm. The history of those times has been so little studied that few persons are aware how remarkable an epoch the general election of 1698 is in the history of the English Constitution.
We have seen that the extreme inconvenience which had resulted from the capricious and headstrong conduct of the House of Commons during the years immediately following the Revolution had forced William to resort to a political machinery which had been unknown to his predecessors, and of which the nature and operation were but very imperfectly understood by himself or by his ablest advisers. For the first time the administration was confided to a small body of statesmen, who, on all grave and pressing questions, agreed with each other and with the majority of the representatives of the people. The direction of war and of diplomacy the King reserved to himself; and his servants, conscious that they were less versed than he in military affairs and in foreign affairs, were content to leave to him the command of the army, and to know only what he thought fit to communicate about the instructions which he gave to his own ambassadors and about the conferences which he held with the ambassadors of other princes. But, with these important exceptions, the government was entrusted to what then began to be called the Ministry.
The first English ministry was gradually formed; nor is it possible to say quite precisely when it began to exist. But, on the whole, the date from which the era of ministries may most properly be reckoned is the day of the meeting of the Parliament after the general election of 1695. That election had taken place at a time when peril and distress had called forth all the best qualities of the nation. The hearts of men were in the struggle against France for independence, for liberty, and for the Protestant religion. Everybody knew that such a struggle could not be carried on without large establishments and heavy taxes. The government therefore could hardly ask for more than the country was ready to give. A House of Commons was chosen in which the Whig party had a decided preponderance. The leaders of that party had presently been raised, one by one, to the highest executive offices. The majority, therefore, readily arranged itself in admirable order under the ministers, and during three sessions gave them on almost every occasion a cordial support. The consequence was that the country was rescued from its dangerous position, and, when that Parliament had lived out its three years, enjoyed prosperity after a terrible commercial crisis, peace after a long and sanguinary war, and liberty united with order after civil troubles which had lasted during two generations, and in which sometimes order and sometimes liberty had been in danger of perishing.
Such were the fruits of the general election of 1695. The ministers had flattered themselves that the general election of 1698 would be equally favourable to them, and that in the new Parliament the old Parliament would revive. Nor is it strange that they should have indulged such a hope. Since they had been called to the direction of affairs every thing had been changed, changed for the better, and changed chiefly by their wise and resolute policy, and by the firmness with which their party had stood by them. There was peace abroad and at home. The sentinels had ceased to watch by the beacons of Dorsetshire and Sussex. The merchant ships went forth without fear from the Thames and the Avon. Soldiers had been disbanded by tens of thousands. Taxes had been remitted. The value of all public and private securities had risen. Trade had never been so brisk. Credit had never been so solid. All over the kingdom the shopkeepers and the farmers, the artisans and the ploughmen, relieved, beyond all hope, from the daily and hourly misery of the clipped silver, were blessing the broad faces of the new shillings and half crowns. The statesmen whose administration had been so beneficent might be pardoned if they expected the gratitude and confidence which they had fairly earned. But it soon became clear that they had served their country only too well for their own interest. In 1695 adversity and danger had made men amenable to that control to which it is the glory of free nations to submit themselves, the control of superior minds. In 1698 prosperity and security had made men querulous, fastidious and unmanageable. The government was assailed with equal violence from widely different quarters. The opposition, made up of Tories many of whom carried Toryism to the length of Jacobitism, and of discontented Whigs some of whom carried Whiggism to the length of republicanism, called itself the Country party, a name which had been popular before the words Whig and Tory were known in England. The majority of the late House of Commons, a majority which had saved the State, was nicknamed the Court party. The Tory gentry, who were powerful in all the counties, had special grievances. The whole patronage of the government, they said, was in Whig hands. The old landed interest, the old Cavalier interest, had now no share in the favours of the Crown. Every public office, every bench of justice, every commission of Lieutenancy, was filled with Roundheads. The Tory rectors and vicars were not less exasperated. They accused the men in power of systematically protecting and preferring Presbyterians, Latitudinarians, Arians, Socinians, Deists, Atheists. An orthodox divine, a divine who held high the dignity of the priesthood and the mystical virtue of the sacraments, who thought schism as great a sin as theft and venerated the Icon as much as the Gospel, had no more chance of a bishopric or a deanery than a Papist recusant. Such complaints as these were not likely to call forth the sympathy of the Whig malecontents. But there were three war cries in which all the enemies of the government, from Trenchard to Seymour, could join: No standing army; No grants of Crown property; and No Dutchmen. Multitudes of honest freeholders and freemen were weak enough to believe that, unless the land force, which had already been reduced below what the public safety required, were altogether disbanded, the nation would be enslaved, and that, if the estates which the King had given away were resumed, all direct taxes might be abolished. The animosity to the Dutch mingled itself both with the animosity to standing armies and with the animosity to Crown grants. For a brigade of Dutch troops was part of the military establishment which was still kept up; and it was to Dutch favourites that William had been most liberal of the royal domains.
The elections, however, began auspiciously for the government. The first great contest was in Westminster. It must be remembered that Westminster was then by far the greatest city in the island, except only the neighbouring city of London, and contained more than three times as large a population as Bristol or Norwich, which came next in size. The right of voting at Westminster was in the householders paying scot and lot; and the householders paying scot and lot were many thousands. It is also to be observed that their political education was much further advanced than that of the great majority of the electors of the kingdom. A burgess in a country town, or a forty shilling freeholder in an agricultural district, then knew little about public affairs except what he could learn from reading the Postman at the alehouse, and from hearing, on the 30th of January, the 29th of May or the 5th of November, a sermon in which questions of state were discussed with more zeal than sense. But the citizen of Westminster passed his days in the vicinity of the palace, of the public offices, of the houses of parliament, of the courts of law. He was familiar with the faces and voices of ministers, senators and judges. In anxious times he walked in the great Hall to pick up news. When there was an important trial, he looked into the Court of King’s Bench, and heard Cowper and Harcourt contending, and Holt moderating between them. When there was an interesting debate, in the House of Commons, he could at least squeeze himself into the lobby or the Court of Requests, and hear who had spoken, and how and what were the numbers on the division. He lived in a region of coffeehouses, of booksellers’ shops, of clubs, of pamphlets, of newspapers, of theatres where poignant allusions to the most exciting questions of the day perpetually called forth applause and hisses, of pulpits where the doctrines of the High Churchman, of the Low Churchman, of the Nonjuror, of the Nonconformist, were explained and defended every Sunday by the most eloquent and learned divines of every persuasion. At that time, therefore, the metropolitan electors were, as a class, decidedly superior in intelligence and knowledge to the provincial electors.
Montague and Secretary Vernon were the ministerial candidates for Westminster. They were opposed by Sir Henry Colt, a dull, surly, stubborn professor of patriotism, who tired everybody to death with his endless railing at standing armies and placemen. The electors were summoned to meet on an open space just out of the streets. The first Lord of the Treasury and the Secretary of State appeared at the head of three thousand horsemen. Colt’s followers were almost all on foot. He was a favourite with the keepers of pot-houses, and had enlisted a strong body of porters and chairmen. The two parties, after exchanging a good deal of abuse, came to blows. The adherents of the ministers were victorious, put the adverse mob to the rout, and cudgelled Colt himself into a muddy ditch. The poll was taken in Westminster Hall. From the first there was no doubt of the result. But Colt tried to prolong the contest by bringing up a voter an hour. When it became clear that this artifice was employed for the purpose of causing delay, the returning officer took on himself the responsibility of closing the books, and of declaring Montague and Vernon duly elected.
At Guildhall the junto was less fortunate. Three ministerial Aldermen were returned. But the fourth member, Sir John Fleet, was not only a Tory, but was Governor of the old East India Company, and had distinguished himself by the pertinacity with which he had opposed the financial and commercial policy of the first Lord of the Treasury. While Montague suffered the mortification of finding that his empire over the city was less absolute than he had imagined, Wharton, notwithstanding his acknowledged preeminence in the art of electioneering, underwent a succession of defeats in boroughs and counties for which he had expected to name the members. He failed at Brackley, at Malmesbury and at Cockermouth. He was unable to maintain possession even of his own strongholds, Wycombe and Aylesbury. He was beaten in Oxfordshire. The freeholders of Buckinghamshire, who had been true to him during many years, and who in 1685, when the Whig party was in the lowest state of depression, had, in spite of fraud and tyranny, not only placed him at the head of the poll but put their second votes at his disposal, now rejected one of his candidates, and could hardly be induced to return the other, his own brother, by a very small majority.
The elections for Exeter appear to have been in that age observed by the nation with peculiar interest. For Exeter was not only one of the largest and most thriving cities in the Kingdom, but was also the capital of the West of England, and was much frequented by the gentry of several counties. The franchise was popular. Party spirit ran high; and the contests were among the fiercest and the longest of which there is any record in our history. Seymour had represented Exeter in the Parliament of James, and in the two first Parliaments of William. In 1695, after a struggle of several weeks which had attracted much attention not only here but on the Continent, he had been defeated by two Whig candidates, and forced to take refuge in a small borough. But times had changed. He was now returned in his absence by a large majority; and with him was joined another Tory less able and, if possible, more unprincipled than himself, Sir Bartholomew Shower. Shower had been notorious as one of the hangmen of James. When that cruel King was bent on punishing with death soldiers who deserted from the army which he kept up in defiance of the constitution, he found that he could expect no assistance from Holt, who was the Recorder of London. Holt was accordingly removed. Shower was made Recorder, and showed his gratitude for his promotion by sending to Tyburn men who, as every barrister in the Inns of Court knew, were guilty of no offence at all. He richly deserved to have been excepted from the Act of Grace, and left to the vengeance of the laws which he had so foully perverted. The return which he made for the clemency which spared him was most characteristic. He missed no opportunity of thwarting and damaging the Government which had saved him from the gallows. Having shed innocent blood for the purpose of enabling James to keep up thirty thousand troops without the consent of Parliament, he now pretended to think it monstrous that William should keep up ten thousand with the consent of Parliament. That a great constituent body should be so forgetful of the past and so much out of humour with the present as to take this base and hardhearted pettifogger for a patriot was an omen which might well justify the most gloomy prognostications.
When the returns were complete, it appeared that the new House of Commons contained an unusual number of men about whom little was known, and on whose support neither the government nor the opposition could with any confidence reckon. The ranks of the staunch ministerial Whigs were certainly much thinned; but it did not appear that the Tory ranks were much fuller than before. That section of the representative body which was Whiggish without being ministerial had gamed a great accession of strength, and seemed likely to have, during some time, the fate of the country in its hands. It was plain that the next session would be a trying one. Yet it was not impossible that the servants of the Crown might, by prudent management, succeed in obtaining a working majority. Towards the close of August the statesmen of the junto, disappointed and anxious but not hopeless, dispersed in order to lay in a stock of health and vigour for the next parliamentary campaign. There were races at that season in the neighbourhood of Winchenden, Wharton’s seat in Buckinghamshire; and a large party assembled there. Orford, Montague and Shrewsbury repaired to the muster. But Somers, whose chronic maladies, aggravated by sedulous application to judicial and political business, made it necessary for him to avoid crowds and luxurious banquets, retired to Tunbridge Wells, and tried to repair his exhausted frame with the water of the springs and the air of the heath. Just at this moment despatches of the gravest importance arrived from Guelders at Whitehall.
The long negotiation touching the Spanish succession had at length been brought to a conclusion. Tallard had joined William at Loo, and had there met Heinsius and Portland. After much discussion, the price in consideration of which the House of Bourbon would consent to waive all claim to Spain and the Indies, and to support the pretensions of the Electoral Prince of Bavaria, was definitively settled. The Dauphin was to have the Province of Guipuscoa, Naples, Sicily and some small Italian islands which were part of the Spanish monarchy. The Milanese was allotted to the Archduke Charles. As the Electoral Prince was still a child, it was agreed that his father, who was then governing the Spanish Netherlands as Viceroy, should be Regent of Spain during the minority. Such was the first Partition Treaty, a treaty which has been during five generations confidently and noisily condemned, and for which scarcely any writer has ventured to offer even a timid apology, but which it may perhaps not be impossible to defend by grave and temperate argument.
It was said, when first the terms of the Partition Treaty were made public, and has since been many times repeated, that the English and Dutch Governments, in making this covenant with France, were guilty of a violation of plighted faith. They had, it was affirmed, by a secret article of a Treaty of Alliance concluded in 1689, bound themselves to support the pretensions of the Emperor to the Spanish throne; and they now, in direct defiance of that article, agreed to an arrangement by which he was excluded from the Spanish throne. The truth is that the secret article will not, whether construed according to the letter or according to the spirit, bear the sense which has generally been put upon it. The stipulations of that article were introduced by a preamble, in which it was set forth that the Dauphin was preparing to assert by arms his claim to the great heritage which his mother had renounced, and that there was reason to believe that he also aspired to the dignity of King of the Romans. For these reasons, England and the States General, considering the evil consequences which must follow if he should succeed in attaining either of his objects, promised to support with all their power his Caesarean Majesty against the French and their adherents. Surely we cannot reasonably interpret this engagement to mean that, when the dangers mentioned in the preamble had ceased to exist, when the eldest Archduke was King of the Romans, and when the Dauphin had, for the sake of peace, withdrawn his claim to the Spanish Crown, England and the United Provinces would be bound to go to war for the purpose of supporting the cause of the Emperor, not against the French but against his own grandson, against the only prince who could reign at Madrid without exciting fear and jealousy throughout all Christendom.
While some persons accused William of breaking faith with the House of Austria, others accused him of interfering unjustly in the internal affairs of Spain. In the most ingenious and humorous political satire extant in our language, Arbuthnot’s History of John Bull, England and Holland are typified by a clothier and a linendraper, who take upon themselves to settle the estate of a bedridden old gentleman in their neighbourhood. They meet at the corner of his park with paper and pencils, a pole, a chain and a semicircle, measure his fields, calculate the value of his mines, and then proceed to his house in order to take an inventory of his plate and furniture. But this pleasantry, excellent as pleasantry, hardly deserves serious refutation. No person who has a right to give any opinion at all about politics can think that the question, whether two of the greatest empires in the world should be virtually united so as to form one irresistible mass, was a question with which other states had nothing to do, a question about which other states could not take counsel together without being guilty of impertinence as gross as that of a busybody in private life who should insist on being allowed to dictate the wills of other people. If the whole Spanish monarchy should pass to the House of Bourbon, it was highly probable that in a few years England would cease to be great and free, and that Holland would be a mere province of France. Such a danger England and Holland might lawfully have averted by war; and it would be absurd to say that a danger which may be lawfully averted by war cannot lawfully be averted by peaceable means. If nations are so deeply interested in a question that they would be justified in resorting to arms for the purpose of settling it, they must surely be sufficiently interested in it to be justified in resorting to amicable arrangements for the purpose of settling it. Yet, strange to say, a multitude of writers who have warmly praised the English and Dutch governments for waging a long and bloody war in order to prevent the question of the Spanish succession from being settled in a manner prejudicial to them, have severely blamed those governments for trying to attain the same end without the shedding of a drop of blood, without the addition of a crown to the taxation of any country in Christendom, and without a moment’s interruption of the trade of the world by land or by sea.
It has been said to have been unjust that three states should have combined to divide a fourth state without its own consent; and, in recent times, the partition of the Spanish monarchy which was meditated in 1698 has been compared to the greatest political crime which stains the history of modern Europe, the partition of Poland. But those who hold such language cannot have well considered the nature of the Spanish monarchy in the seventeenth century. That monarchy was not a body pervaded by one principle of vitality and sensation. It was an assemblage of distinct bodies, none of which had any strong sympathy with the rest, and some of which had a positive antipathy for each other. The partition planned at Loo was therefore the very opposite of the partition of Poland. The partition of Poland was the partition of a nation. It was such a partition as is effected by hacking a living man limb from limb. The partition planned at Loo was the partition of an ill governed empire which was not a nation. It was such a partition as is effected by setting loose a drove of slaves who have been fastened together with collars and handcuffs, and whose union has produced only pain, inconvenience and mutual disgust. There is not the slightest reason to believe that the Neapolitans would have preferred the Catholic King to the Dauphin, or that the Lombards would have preferred the Catholic King to the Archduke. How little the Guipuscoans would have disliked separation from Spain and annexation to France we may judge from the fact that, a few years later, the States of Guipuscoa actually offered to transfer their allegiance to France on condition that their peculiar franchises should be held sacred.
One wound the partition would undoubtedly have inflicted, a wound on the Castilian pride. But surely the pride which a nation takes in exercising over other nations a blighting and withering dominion, a dominion without prudence or energy, without justice or mercy, is not a feeling entitled to much respect. And even a Castilian who was not greatly deficient in sagacity must have seen that an inheritance claimed by two of the greatest potentates in Europe could hardly pass entire to one claimant; that a partition was therefore all but inevitable; and that the question was in truth merely between a partition effected by friendly compromise and a partition effected by means of a long and devastating war.
There seems, therefore, to be no ground at all for pronouncing the terms of the Treaty of Loo unjust to the Emperor, to the Spanish monarchy considered as a whole, or to any part of that monarchy. Whether those terms were or were not too favourable to France is quite another question. It has often been maintained that she would have gained more by permanently annexing to herself Guipuscoa, Naples and Sicily than by sending the Duke of Anjou or the Duke of Berry to reign at the Escurial. On this point, however, if on any point, respect is due to the opinion of William. That he thoroughly understood the politics of Europe is as certain as that jealousy of the greatness of France was with him a passion, a ruling passion, almost an infirmity. Before we blame him, therefore, for making large concessions to the power which it was the chief business of his life to keep within bounds, we shall do well to consider whether those concessions may not, on close examination, be found to be rather apparent than real. The truth is that they were so, and were well known to be so both by William and by Lewis.
Naples and Sicily formed indeed a noble kingdom, fertile, populous, blessed with a delicious climate, and excellently situated for trade. Such a kingdom, had it been contiguous to Provence, would indeed have been a most formidable addition to the French monarchy. But a glance at the map ought to have been sufficient to undeceive those who imagined that the great antagonist of the House of Bourbon could be so weak as to lay the liberties of Europe at the feet of that house. A King of France would, by acquiring territories in the South of Italy, have really bound himself over to keep the peace; for, as soon as he was at war with his neighbours, those territories were certain to be worse than useless to him. They were hostages at the mercy of his enemies. It would be easy to attack them. It would be hardly possible to defend them. A French army sent to them by land would have to force its way through the passes of the Alps, through Piedmont, through Tuscany, and through the Pontifical States, in opposition probably to great German armies. A French fleet would run great risk of being intercepted and destroyed by the squadrons of England and Holland. Of all this Lewis was perfectly aware. He repeatedly declared that he should consider the kingdom of the Two Sicilies as a source, not of strength, but of weakness. He accepted it at last with murmurs; he seems to have intended to make it over to one of his younger grandsons; and he would beyond all doubt have gladly given it in exchange for a thirtieth part of the same area in the Netherlands. 1 But in the Netherlands England and Holland were determined to allow him nothing. What he really obtained in Italy was little more than a splendid provision for a cadet of his house. Guipuscoa was then in truth the price in consideration of which France consented that the Electoral Prince of Bavaria should be King of Spain and the Indies. Guipuscoa, though a small, was doubtless a valuable province, and was in a military point of view highly important. But Guipuscoa was not in the Netherlands. Guipuscoa would not make Lewis a more formidable neighbour to England or to the United Provinces. And, if the Treaty should be broken off, if the vast Spanish empire should be struggled for and torn in pieces by the rival races of Bourbon and Habsburg, was it not possible, was it not probable, that France might lay her iron grasp, not on Guipuscoa alone, but on Luxemburg and Namur, on Hainault, Brabant and Antwerp, on Flanders East and West? Was it certain that the united force of all her neighbours would be sufficient to compel her to relinquish her prey? Was it not certain that the contest would be long and terrible? And would not the English and Dutch think themselves most fortunate if, after many bloody and costly campaigns, the French King could be compelled to sign a treaty, the same, word for word, with that which he was ready uncompelled to sign now?
William, firmly relying on his own judgment, had not yet, in the whole course of this momentous negotiation, asked the advice or employed the agency of any English minister. But the treaty could not be formally concluded without the instrumentality of one of the Secretaries of State and of the Great Seal. Portland was directed to write to Vernon. The King himself wrote to the Chancellor. Somers was authorised to consult any of his colleagues whom he might think fit to be entrusted with so high a secret; and he was requested to give his own opinion of the proposed arrangement. If that opinion should be favourable, not a day must be lost. The King of Spain might die at any moment, and could hardly live till the winter. Full powers must be sent to Loo, sealed, but with blanks left for the names of the plenipotentiaries. Strict secresy must be observed; and care must be taken that the clerks whose duty it was to draw up the necessary documents should not entertain any suspicion of the importance of the work which they were performing.
The despatch from Loo found Somers at a distance from all his political friends, and almost incapacitated by infirmities and by remedies from attending to serious business, his delicate frame worn out by the labours and vigils of many months, his head aching and giddy with the first draughts from the chalybeate spring. He roused himself, however, and promptly communicated by writing with Shrewsbury and Orford. Montague and Vernon came down to Tunbridge Wells, and conferred fully with him. The opinion of the leading Whig statesmen was communicated to the King in a letter which was not many months later placed on the records of Parliament. These statesmen entirely agreed with William in wishing to see the question of the Spanish succession speedily and peaceably settled. They apprehended that, if Charles should die leaving that question unsettled, the immense power of the French King and the geographical situation of his dominions would enable him to take immediate possession of the most important parts of the great inheritance. Whether he was likely to venture on so bold a course, and whether, if he did venture on it, any continental government would have the means and the spirit to withstand him, were questions as to which the English ministers, with unfeigned deference, submitted their opinion to that of their master, whose knowledge of the interests and tempers of all the courts of Europe was unrivalled. But there was one important point which must not be left out of consideration, and about which his servants might perhaps be better informed than himself, the temper of their own country. It was, the Chancellor wrote, their duty to tell His Majesty that the recent elections had indicated the public feeling in a manner which had not been expected, but which could not be mistaken. The spirit which had borne the nation up through nine years of exertions and sacrifices seemed to be dead. The people were sick of taxes; they hated the thought of war. As it would, in such circumstances, be no easy matter to form a coalition capable of resisting the pretensions of France, it was most desirable that she should be induced to withdraw those pretensions; and it was not to be expected that she would withdraw them without securing for herself a large compensation. The principle of the Treaty of Loo, therefore, the English Ministers cordially approved. But whether the articles of that treaty were or were not too favourable to the House of Bourbon, and whether the House of Bourbon was likely faithfully to observe them, were questions about which Somers delicately hinted that he and his colleagues felt some misgivings. They had their fears that Lewis might be playing false. They had their fears also that, possessed of Sicily, he would be master of the trade of the Levant; and that, possessed of Guipuscoa, he would be able at any moment to push an army into the heart of Castile. But they had been reassured by the thought that their Sovereign thoroughly understood this department of politics, that he had fully considered all these things, that he had neglected no precaution, and that the concessions which he had made to France were the smallest which could have averted the calamities impending over Christendom. It was added that the service which His Majesty had rendered to the House of Bavaria gave him a right to ask for some return. Would it be too much to expect, from the gratitude of the prince who was soon to be a great king, some relaxation of the rigorous system which excluded the English trade from the Spanish colonies? Such a relaxation would greatly endear His Majesty to his subjects.
With these suggestions the Chancellor sent off the powers which the King wanted. They were drawn up by Vernon with his own hand, and sealed in such a manner that no subordinate officer was let into the secret. Blanks were left, as the King had directed, for the names of two Commissioners. But Somers gently hinted that it would be proper to fill those blanks with the names of persons who were English by naturalisation, if not by birth, and who would therefore be responsible to Parliament.
The King now had what he wanted from England. The peculiarity of the Batavian polity threw some difficulties in his way; but every difficulty gelded to his authority and to the dexterous management of Heinsius. And in truth the treaty could not but be favourably regarded by the States General; for it had been carefully framed with the especial object of preventing France from obtaining any accession of territory, or influence on the side of the Netherlands; and Dutchmen, who remembered the terrible year when the camp of Lewis had been pitched between Utrecht and Amsterdam, were delighted to find that he was not to add to his dominions a single fortress in their neighbourhood, and were quite willing to buy him off with whole provinces under the Pyrenees and the Apennines. The sanction both of the federal and of the provincial governments was given with ease and expedition; and in the evening of the fourth of September 1698, the treaty was signed. As to the blanks in the English powers, William had attended to his Chancellor’s suggestion, and had inserted the names of Sir Joseph Williamson, minister at the Hague, a born Englishman, and of Portland, a naturalised Englishman. The Grand Pensionary and seven other Commissioners signed on behalf of the United Provinces. Tallard alone signed for France. He seems to have been extravagantly elated by what seemed to be the happy issue of the negotiation in which he had borne so great a part, and in his next despatch to Lewis boasted of the new treaty as destined to be the most famous that had been made during many centuries.
William too was well pleased; and he had reason to be so. Had the King of Spain died, as all men expected, before the end of that year, it is highly probable that France would have kept faith with England and the United Provinces; and it is almost certain that, if France had kept faith, the treaty would have been carried into effect without any serious opposition in any quarter. The Emperor might have complained and threatened; but he must have submitted; for what could he do? He had no fleet; and it was therefore impossible for him even to attempt to possess himself of Castile, of Arragon, of Sicily, of the Indies, in opposition to the united navies of the three greatest maritime powers in the world. In fact, the only part of the Spanish empire which he could hope to seize and hold by force against the will of the confederates of Loo was the Milanese; and the Milanese the confederates of Loo had agreed to assign to his family. He would scarcely have been so mad as to disturb the peace of the world when the only thing which he had any chance of gaining by war was offered him without war. The Castilians would doubtless have resented the dismemberment of the unwieldy body of which they formed the head. But they would have perceived that by resisting they were much more likely to lose the Indies than to preserve Guipuscoa. As to Italy, they could no more make war there than in the moon. Thus the crisis which had seemed likely to produce an European war of ten years would have produced nothing worse than a few angry notes and plaintive manifestoes.
Both the confederate Kings wished their compact to remain a secret while their brother Charles lived; and it probably would have remained secret, had it been confided only to the English and French Ministers. But the institutions of the United Provinces were not well fitted for the purpose of concealment. It had been necessary to trust so many deputies and magistrates that rumours of what had been passing at Loo got abroad. Quiros, the Spanish Ambassador at the Hague, followed the trail with such skill and perseverance that he discovered, if not the whole truth, yet enough to furnish materials for a despatch which produced much irritation and alarm at Madrid. A council was summoned, and sate long in deliberation. The grandees of the proudest of Courts could hardly fail to perceive that their next sovereign, be he who he might, would find it impossible to avoid sacrificing part of his defenceless and widely scattered empire in order to preserve the rest; they could not bear to think that a single fort, a single islet, in any of the four quarters of the world was about to escape from the sullen domination of Castile. To this sentiment all the passions and prejudices of the haughty race were subordinate. “We are ready,” such was the phrase then in their mouths, “to go to any body, to go to the Dauphin, to go to the Devil, so that we all go together.” In the hope of averting the threatened dismemberment, the Spanish ministers advised their master to adopt as his heir the candidate whose pretensions it was understood that France, England and Holland were inclined to support. The advice was taken; and it was soon every where known that His Catholic Majesty had solemnly designated as his successor his nephew Francis Joseph, Electoral Prince of Bavaria. France protested against this arrangement, not, as far as can now be judged, because she meant to violate the Treaty of Loo, but because it would have been difficult for her, if she did not protest, to insist on the full execution of that treaty. Had she silently acquiesced in the nomination of the Electoral Prince, she would have appeared to admit that the Dauphin’s pretensions were unfounded; and, if she admitted the Dauphin’s pretensions to be unfounded, she could not, without flagrant injustice, demand several provinces as the price in consideration of which she would consent to waive those pretensions. Meanwhile the confederates had secured the cooperation of a most important person, the Elector of Bavaria, who was actually Governor of the Netherlands, and was likely to be in a few months, at farthest, Regent of the whole Spanish monarchy. He was perfectly sensible that the consent of France, England and Holland to his son’s elevation was worth purchasing at almost any cost, and, with much alacrity, promised that, when the time came, he would do all in his power to facilitate the execution of the Treaty of Partition. He was indeed bound by the strongest ties to the confederates of Loo. They had, by a secret article, added to the treaty, agreed that, if the Electoral Prince should become King of Spain, and then die without issue, his father should be his heir. The news that young Francis Joseph had been declared heir to the throne of Spain was welcome to all the potentates of Europe with the single exception of his grandfather the Emperor. The vexation and indignation of Leopold were extreme. But there could be no doubt that, graciously or ungraciously, he would submit. It would have been madness in him to contend against all Western Europe on land; and it was physically impossible for him to wage war on the sea. William was therefore able to indulge, during some weeks, the pleasing belief that he had by skill and firmness averted from the civilised world a general war which had lately seemed to be imminent, and that he had secured the great community of nations against the undue predominance of one too powerful member.
But the pleasure and the pride with which he contemplated the success of his foreign policy gave place to very different feelings as soon as he again had to deal with our domestic factions. And, indeed, those who most revere his memory must acknowledge that, in dealing with these factions, he did not, at this time, show his wonted statesmanship. For a wise man, he seems never to have been sufficiently aware how much offence is given by discourtesy in small things. His ministers had apprised him that the result of the elections had been unsatisfactory, and that the temper of the new representatives of the people would require much management. Unfortunately he did not lay this intimation to heart. He had by proclamation fixed the opening of the Parliament for the 29th of November. This was then considered as a very late day. For the London season began together with Michaelmas Term; and, even during the war, the King had scarcely ever failed to receive the compliments of his faithful Lords and Commons on the fifth of November, the anniversary both of his birth and of his memorable landing. The numerous members of the House of Commons who were in town, having their time on their hands, formed cabals, and heated themselves and each other by murmuring at his partiality for the country of his birth. He had been off to Holland, they said, at the earliest possible moment. He was now lingering in Holland till the latest possible moment. This was not the worst. The twenty-ninth of November came; but the King was not come. It was necessary that the Lords Justices should prorogue the Parliament to the sixth of December. The delay was imputed, and justly, to adverse winds. But the malecontents asked, with some reason, whether His Majesty had not known that there were often gales from the West in the German Ocean, and whether, when he had made a solemn appointment with the Estates of his Realm for a particular day, he ought not to have arranged things in such a way that nothing short of a miracle could have prevented him from keeping that appointment.
Thus the ill humour which a large proportion of the new legislators had brought up from their country seats became more and more aced every day, till they entered on their functions. One question was much agitated during this unpleasant interval. Who was to be Speaker? The junto wished to place Sir Thomas Littleton in the chair. He was one of their ablest, most zealous and most steadfast friends; and had been, both in the House of Commons and at the Board of Treasury, an invaluable second to Montague. There was reason indeed to expect a strong opposition. That Littleton was a Whig was a grave objection to him in the opinion of the Tories. That he was a placeman, and that he was for a standing army, were grave objections to him in the opinion of many who were not Tories. But nobody else came forward. The health of the late Speaker Foley had failed. Musgrave was talked of in coffeehouses; but the rumour that he would be proposed soon died away. Seymour’s name was in a few mouths; but Seymour’s day had gone by. He still possessed, indeed, those advantages which had once made him the first of the country gentlemen of England, illustrious descent, ample fortune, ready and weighty eloquence, perfect familiarity with parliamentary business. But all these things could not do so much to raise him as his moral character did to drag him down. Haughtiness such as his, though it could never have been liked, might, if it had been united with elevated sentiments of virtue and honour, have been pardoned. But of all the forms of pride, even the pride of upstart wealth not excepted, the most offensive is the pride of ancestry when found in company with sordid and ignoble vices, greediness, mendacity, knavery and impudence; and such was the pride of Seymour. Many, even of those who were well pleased to see the ministers galled by his keen and skilful rhetoric, remembered that he had sold himself more than once, and suspected that he was impatient to sell himself again. On the very eve of the opening of Parliament, a little tract entitled “Considerations on the Choice of a Speaker” was widely circulated, and seems to have produced a great sensation. The writer cautioned the representatives of the people, at some length, against Littleton; and then, in even stronger language, though more concisely, against Seymour; but did not suggest any third person. The sixth of December came, and found the Country party, as it called itself, still unprovided with a candidate. The King, who had not been many hours in London, took his seat in the House of Lords. The Commons were summoned to the bar, and were directed to choose a Speaker. They returned to their Chamber. Hartington proposed Littleton; and the proposition was seconded by Spencer. No other person was put in nomination; but there was a warm debate of two hours. Seymour, exasperated by finding that no party was inclined to support his pretensions, spoke with extravagant violence. He who could well remember the military despotism of Cromwell, who had been an active politician in the days of the Cabal, and who had seen his own beautiful county turned into a Golgotha by the Bloody Circuit, declared that the liberties of the nation had never been in greater danger than at that moment, and that their doom would be fixed if a courtier should be called to the chair. The opposition insisted on dividing. Hartington’s motion was carried by two hundred and forty-two votes to a hundred and thirty-five, Littleton himself, according to the childish old usage which has descended to our times, voting in the minority. Three days later, he was presented and approved.
The King then spoke from the throne. He declared his firm conviction that the Houses were disposed to do whatever was necessary for the safety, honour and happiness of the kingdom; and he asked them for nothing more. When they came to consider the military and naval establishments, they would remember that, unless England were secure from attack, she could not continue to hold the high place which she had won for herself among European powers; her trade would languish; her credit would fail; and even her internal tranquillity would be in danger. He also expressed a hope that some progress would be made in the discharge of the debts contracted during the War. “I think,” he said, “an English Parliament can never make such a mistake as not to hold sacred all Parliamentary engagements.”
The speech appeared to be well received; and during a short time William flattered himself that the great fault, as he considered it, of the preceding session would be repaired, that the army would be augmented, and that he should be able, at the important conjuncture which was approaching, to speak to foreign powers in tones of authority, and especially to keep France steady to her engagements. The Whigs of the junto, better acquainted with the temper of the country and of the new House of Commons, pronounced it impossible to carry a vote for a land force of more than ten thousand men. Ten thousand men would probably be obtained if His Majesty would authorise his servants to ask in his name for that number, and to declare that with a smaller number he could not answer for the public safety. William, firmly convinced that twenty thousand would be too few, refused to make or empower others to make a proposition which seemed to him absurd and disgraceful. Thus, at a moment at which it was peculiarly desirable that all who bore a part in the executive administration should act cordially together, there was serious dissension between him and his ablest councillors. For that dissension neither he nor they can be severely blamed. They were differently situated, and necessarily saw the same objects from different points of view. He, as was natural, considered the question chiefly as an European question. They, as was natural, considered it chiefly as an English question. They had found the antipathy to a standing army insurmountably strong even in the late Parliament, a Parliament disposed to place large confidence in them and in their master. In the new Parliament that antipathy amounted almost to a mania. That liberty, law, property, could never be secured while the Sovereign had a large body of regular troops at his command in time of peace, and that of all regular troops foreign troops were the most to be dreaded, had, during the recent elections, been repeated in every town hall and market place, and scrawled upon every dead wall. The reductions of the preceding year, it was said, even if they had been honestly carved into effect, would not have been sufficient; and they had not been honestly carried into effect. On this subject the ministers pronounced the temper of the Commons to be such that, if any person high in office were to ask for what His Majesty thought necessary, there would assuredly be a violent explosion; the majority would probably be provoked into disbanding all that remained of the army; and the kingdom would be left without a single soldier. William, however, could not be brought to believe that the case was so hopeless. He listened too easily to some secret adviser, Sunderland was probably the man, who accused Montague and Somers of cowardice and insincerity. They had, it was whispered in the royal ear, a majority, whenever they really wanted one. They were bent upon placing their friend Littleton in the Speaker’s chair; and they had carried their point triumphantly. They would carry as triumphantly a vote for a respectable military establishment if the honour of their master and the safety of their country were as dear to them as the petty interests of their own faction. It was to no purpose that the King was told, what was nevertheless perfectly true, that not one half of the members who had voted for Littleton, could, by any art or eloquence, be induced to vote for an augmentation of the land force. While he was urging his ministers to stand up manfully against the popular prejudice, and while they were respectfully representing to him that by so standing up they should only make that prejudice stronger and more noxious, the day came which the Commons had fixed for taking the royal speech into consideration. The House resolved itself into a Committee. The great question was instantly raised; What provision should be made for the defence of the realm? It was naturally expected that the confidential advisers of the Crown would propose something. As they remained silent, Harley took the lead which properly belonged to them, and moved that the army should not exceed seven thousand men. Sir Charles Sedley suggested ten thousand. Vernon, who was present, was of opinion that this number would have been carved if it had been proposed by one who was known to speak on behalf of the King. But few members cared to support an amendment which was certain to be less pleasing to their constituents, and did not appear to be more pleasing to the Court, than the original motion. Harley’s resolution passed the Committee. On the morrow it was reported and approved. The House also resolved that all the seven thousand men who were to be retained should be natural born English subjects. Other votes were carried without a single division either in the Committee or when the mace was on the table.
The King’s indignation and vexation were extreme. He was angry with the opposition, with the ministers, with all England. The nation seemed to him to be under a judicial infatuation, blind to dangers which his sagacity perceived to be real, near and formidable, and morbidly apprehensive of dangers which his conscience told him were no dangers at all. The perverse islanders were willing to trust every thing that was most precious to them, their independence, their property, their laws, their religion, to the moderation and good faith of France, to the winds and the waves, to the steadiness and expertness of battalions of ploughmen commanded by squires; and yet they were afraid to trust him with the means of protecting them lest he should use those means for the destruction of the liberties which he had saved from extreme peril, which he had fenced with new securities, which he had defended with the hazard of his life, and which from the day of his accession he had never once violated. He was attached, and not without reason, to the Blue Dutch Foot Guards. That brigade had served under him for many years, and had been eminently distinguished by courage, discipline and fidelity. In December 1688 that brigade had been the first in his army to enter the English capital, and had been entrusted with the important duty of occupying Whitehall and guarding the person of James. Eighteen months later, that brigade had been the first to plunge into the waters of the Boyne. Nor had the conduct of these veteran soldiers been less exemplary in their quarters than in the field. The vote which required the King to discard them merely because they were what he himself was seemed to him a personal affront. All these vexations and scandals he imagined that his ministers might have averted, if they had been more solicitous for his honour and for the success of his great schemes of policy, and less solicitous about their own popularity. They, on the other hand, continued to assure him, and, as far as can now be judged, to assure him with perfect truth, that it was altogether out of their power to effect what he wished. Something they might perhaps be able to do. Many members of the House of Commons had said in private that seven thousand men was too small a number. If His Majesty would let it be understood that he should consider those who should vote for ten thousand as having done him good service, there might be hopes. But there could be no hope if gentlemen found that by voting for ten thousand they should please nobody, that they should be held up to the counties and towns which they represented as turncoats and slaves for going so far to meet his wishes, and that they should be at the same time frowned upon at Kensington for not going farther. The King was not to be moved. He had been too great to sink into littleness without a struggle. He had been the soul of two great coalitions, the dread of France, the hope of all oppressed nations. And was he to be degraded into a mere puppet of the Harleys and the Hooves, a petty prince who could neither help nor hurt, a less formidable enemy and less valuable ally than the Elector of Brandenburg or the Duke of Savoy? His spirit, quite as arbitrary and as impatient of control as that of any of his predecessors, Stuart, Tudor or Plantagenet, swelled high against this ignominious bondage. It was well known at Versailles that he was cruelly mortified and incensed; and, during a short time, a strange hope was cherished there that, in the heat of his resentment, he might be induced to imitate his uncles, Charles and James, to conclude another treaty of Dover, and to sell himself into vassalage for a subsidy which might make him independent of his niggardly and mutinous Parliament. Such a subsidy, it was thought, might be disguised under the name of a compensation for the little principality of Orange, which Lewis had long been desirous to purchase even at a fancy price. A despatch was drawn up containing a paragraph by which Tallard was to be apprised of his master’s views, and instructed not to hazard any distinct proposition, but to try the effect of cautious and delicate insinuations, and, if possible, to draw William on to speak first. This paragraph was, on second thoughts, cancelled; but that it should ever have been written must be considered a most significant circumstance.
It may with confidence be affirmed that William would never have stooped to be the pensioner of France; but it was with difficulty that he was, at this conjuncture, dissuaded from throwing up the government of England. When first he threw out hints about retiring to the Continent, his ministers imagined that he was only trying to frighten them into making a desperate effort to obtain for him an efficient army. But they soon saw reason to believe that he was in earnest. That he was in earnest, indeed, can hardly be doubted. For, in a confidential letter to Heinsius, whom he could have no motive for deceiving, he intimated his intention very clearly. “I foresee,” he writes, “that I shall be driven to take an extreme course, and that I shall see you again in Holland sooner than I had imagined.” 2 In fact he had resolved to go down to the Lords, to send for the Commons, and to make his last speech from the throne. That speech he actually prepared and had it translated. He meant to tell his hearers that he had come to England to rescue their religion and their liberties; that, for that end, he had been under the necessity of waging a long and cruel war; that the war had, by the blessing of God, ended in an honourable and advantageous peace; and that the nation might now be tranquil and happy, if only those precautions were adopted which he had on the first day of the session recommended as essential to the public security. Since, however, the Estates of the Realm thought fit to slight his advice, and to expose themselves to the imminent risk of ruin, he would not be the witness of calamities which he had not caused and which he could not avert. He must therefore request the Houses to present to him a bill providing for the government of the realm; he would pass that bill, and withdraw from a post in which he could no longer be useful, but he should always take a deep interest in the welfare of England; and, if what he foreboded should come to pass, if in some day of danger she should again need his services, his life should be hazarded as freely as ever in her defence.
When the King showed his speech to the Chancellor, that wise minister forgot for a moment his habitual self-command. “This is extravagance, Sir,” he said: “this is madness. I implore your Majesty, for the sake of your own honour, not to say to anybody else what you have said to me.” He argued the matter during two hours, and no doubt lucidly and forcibly. William listened patiently; but his purpose remained unchanged.
The alarm of the ministers seems to have been increased by finding that the King’s intention had been confided to Marlborough, the very last man to whom such a secret would have been imparted unless William had really made up his mind to abdicate in favour of the Princess of Denmark. Somers had another audience, and again began to expostulate. But William cut him short. “We shall not agree, my Lord; my mind is made up.” “Then, Sir,” said Somers, “I have to request that I may be excused from assisting as Chancellor at the fatal act which Your Majesty meditates. It was from my King that I received this seal; and I beg that he will take it from me while he is still my King.”
In these circumstances the ministers, though with scarcely the faintest hope of success, determined to try what they could do to meet the King’s wishes. A select Committee had been appointed by the House of Commons to frame a bill for the disbanding of all the troops above seven thousand. A motion was made by one of the Court party that this Committee should be instructed to reconsider the number of men. Vernon acquitted himself well in the debate. Montague spoke with even more than his wonted ability and energy, but in vain. So far was he from being able to rally round him such a majority as that which had supported him in the preceding Parliament, that he could not count on the support even of the placemen who sate at the same executive board with him. Thomas Pelham, who had, only a few months before, been made a Lord of the Treasury, tried to answer him. “I own,” said Pelham, “that last year I thought a large land force necessary; this year I think such a force unnecessary; but I deny that I have been guilty of any inconsistency. Last year the great question of the Spanish succession was unsettled, and there was serious danger of a general war. That question has now been settled in the best possible way; and we may look forward to many years of peace.” A Whig of still greater note and authority, the Marquess of Hartington, separated himself on this occasion from the junto. The current was irresistible. At last the voices of those who tried to speak for the Instruction were drowned by clamour. When the question was put, there was a great shout of No, and the minority submitted. To divide would have been merely to have exposed their weakness.
By this time it became clear that the relations between the executive government and the Parliament were again what they had been before the year 1695. The history of our polity at this time is closely connected with the history of one man. Hitherto Montague’s career had been more splendidly and uninterruptedly successful than that of any member of the House of Commons, since the House of Commons had begun to exist. And now fortune had turned. By the Tories he had long been hated as a Whig; and the rapidity of his rise, the brilliancy of his fame, and the unvarying good luck which seemed to attend him, had made many Whigs his enemies. He was absurdly compared to the upstart favourites of a former age, Carr and Villiers, men whom he resembled in nothing but in the speed with which he had mounted from a humble to a lofty position. They had, without rendering any service to the State, without showing any capacity for the conduct of great affairs, been elevated to the highest dignities, in spite of the murmurs of the whole nation, by the mere partiality of the Sovereign. Montague owed every thing to his own merit and to the public opinion of his merit. With his master he appears to have had very little intercourse, and none that was not official. He was in truth a living monument of what the Revolution had done for the Country. The Revolution had found him a young student in a cell by the Cam, poring on the diagrams which illustrated the newly discovered laws of centripetal and centrifugal force, writing little copies of verses, and indulging visions of parsonages with rich glebes, and of closes in old cathedral towns had developed in him new talents; had held out to him the hope of prizes of a very different sort from a rectory or a prebend. His eloquence had gained for him the ear of the legislature. His skill in fiscal and commercial affairs had won for him the confidence of the City. During four years he had been the undisputed leader of the majority of the House of Commons; and every one of those years he had made memorable by great parliamentary victories, and by great public services. It should seem that his success ought to have been gratifying to the nation, and especially to that assembly of which he was the chief ornament, of which indeed he might be called the creature. The representatives of the people ought to have been well pleased to find that their approbation could, in the new order of things, do for the man whom they delighted to honour all that the mightiest of the Tudors could do for Leicester, or the most arbitrary of the Stuarts for Strafford. But, strange to say, the Commons soon began to regard with an evil eve that greatness which was their own work. The fault indeed was partly Montague’s. With all his ability, he had not the wisdom to avert, by suavity and moderation, that curse, the inseparable concomitant of prosperity and glory, which the ancients personified under the name of Nemesis. His head, strong for all the purposes of debate and arithmetical calculation, was weak against the intoxicating influence of success and fame. He became proud even to insolence. Old companions, who, a very few years before, had punned and rhymed with him in garrets, had dined with him at cheap ordinaries, had sate with him in the pit, and had lent him some silver to pay his seamstress’s bill, hardly knew their friend Charles in the great man who could not forget for one moment that he was First Lord of the Treasury, that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he had been a Regent of the kingdom, that he had founded the Bank of England and the new East India Company, that he had restored the currency, that he had invented the Exchequer Bills, that he had planned the General Mortgage, and that he had been pronounced, by a solemn vote of the Commons, to have deserved all the favours which he had received from the Crown. It was said that admiration of himself and contempt of others were indicated by all his gestures and written in all the lines of his face. The very way in which the little jackanapes, as the hostile pamphleteers loved to call him, strutted through the lobby, making the most of his small figure, rising on his toe, and perking up his chin, made him enemies. Rash and arrogant sayings were imputed to him, and perhaps invented for him. He was accused of boasting that there was nothing that he could not carry through the House of Commons, that he could turn the majority round his finger. A crowd of libellers assailed him with much more than political hatred. Boundless rapacity and corruption were laid to his charge. He was represented as selling all the places in the revenue department for three years’ purchase. The opprobrious nickname of Filcher was fastened on him. His luxury, it was said, was not less inordinate than his avarice. There was indeed an attempt made at this time to raise against the leading Whig politicians and their allies, the great moneyed men of the City, a cry much resembling the cry which, seventy or eighty years later, was raised against the English Nabobs. Great wealth, suddenly acquired, is not often enjoyed with moderation, dignity and good taste. It is therefore not impossible that there may have been some small foundation for the extravagant stories with which malecontent pamphleteers amused the leisure of malecontent squires. In such stories Montague played a conspicuous part. He contrived, it was said, to be at once as rich as Croesus and as riotous as Mark Antony. His stud and his cellar were beyond all price. His very lacqueys turned up their noses at claret. He and his confederates were described as spending the immense sums of which they had plundered the public in banquets of four courses, such as Lucullus might have eaten in the Hall of Apollo. A supper for twelve Whigs, enriched by jobs, grants, bribes, lucky purchases and lucky sales of stock, was cheap at eighty pounds. At the end of every course all the fine linen on the table was changed. Those who saw the pyramids of choice wild fowl imagined that the entertainment had been prepared for fifty epicures at the least. Only six birds’ nests from the Nicobar islands were to be had in London; and all the six, bought at an enormous price, were smoking in soup on the board. These fables were destitute alike of probability and of evidence. But Grub Street could devise no fable injurious to Montague which was not certain to find credence in more than half the manor houses and vicarages of England.
It may seem strange that a man who loved literature passionately, and rewarded literary merit munificently, should have been more savagely reviled both in prose and verse than almost any other politician in our history. But there is really no cause for wonder. A powerful, liberal and discerning protector of genius is very likely to be mentioned with honour long after his death, but is very likely also to be most brutally libelled during his life. In every age there will be twenty bad writers for one good one; and every bad writer will think himself a good one. A ruler who neglects all men of letters alike does not wound the self love of any man of letters. But a ruler who shows favour to the few men of letters who deserve it inflicts on the many the miseries of disappointed hope, of affronted pride, of jealousy cruel as the grave. All the rage of a multitude of authors, irritated at once by the sting of want and by the sting of vanity, is directed against the unfortunate patron. It is true that the thanks and eulogies of those whom he has befriended will be remembered when the invectives of those whom he has neglected are forgotten. But in his own time the obloquy will probably make as much noise and find as much credit as the panegyric. The name of Maecenas has been made immortal by Horace and Virgil, and is popularly used to designate an accomplished statesman, who lives in close intimacy with the greatest poets and wits of his time, and heaps benefits on them with the most delicate generosity. But it may well be suspected that, if the verses of Alpinus and Fannius, of Bavius and Maevius, had come down to us, we might see Maecenas represented as the most niggardly and tasteless of human beings, nay as a man who, on system, neglected and persecuted all intellectual superiority. It is certain that Montague was thus represented by contemporary scribblers. They told the world in essays, in letters, in dialogues, in ballads, that he would do nothing for anybody without being paid either in money or in some vile services; that he not only never rewarded merit, but hated it whenever he saw it; that he practised the meanest arts for the purpose of depressing it; that those whom he protected and enriched were not men of ability and virtue, but wretches distinguished only by their sycophancy and their low debaucheries. And this was said of the man who made the fortune of Joseph Addison, and of Isaac Newton.
Nothing had done more to diminish the influence of Montague in the House of Commons than a step which he had taken a few weeks before the meeting of the Parliament. It would seem that the result of the general election had made him uneasy, and that he had looked anxiously round him for some harbour in which he might take refuge from the storms which seemed to be gathering. While his thoughts were thus employed, he learned that the Auditorship of the Exchequer had suddenly become vacant. The Auditorship was held for life. The duties were formal and easy. The gains were uncertain; for they rose and fell with the public expenditure; but they could hardly, in time of peace, and under the most economical administration, be less than four thousand pounds a year, and were likely, in time of war, to be more than double of that sum. Montague marked this great office for his own. He could not indeed take it, while he continued to be in charge of the public purse. For it would have been indecent, and perhaps illegal, that he should audit his own accounts. He therefore selected his brother Christopher, whom he had lately made a Commissioner of the Excise, to keep the place for him. There was, as may easily be supposed, no want of powerful and noble competitors for such a prize. Leeds had, more than twenty years before, obtained from Charles the Second a patent granting the reversion to Caermarthen. Godolphin, it was said, pleaded a promise made by William. But Montague maintained, and was, it seems, right in maintaining, that both the patent of Charles and the promise of William had been given under a mistake, and that the right of appointing the Auditor belonged, not to the Crown, but to the Board of Treasury. He carried his point with characteristic audacity and celerity. The news of the vacancy reached London on a Sunday. On the Tuesday the new Auditor was sworn in. The ministers were amazed. Even the Chancellor, with whom Montague was on terms of intimate friendship, had not been consulted. Godolphin devoured his ill temper. Caermarthen ordered out his wonderful yacht, and hastened to complain to the King, who was then at Loo. But what had been done could not be undone.
This bold stroke placed Montague’s fortune, in the lower sense of the word, out of hazard, but increased the animosity of his enemies and cooled the zeal of his adherents. In a letter written by one of his colleagues, Secretary Vernon, on the day after the appointment, the Auditorship is described as at once a safe and lucrative place. “But I thought,” Vernon proceeds, “Mr. Montague was too aspiring to stoop to any thing below the height he was in, and that he least considered profit.” This feeling was no doubt shared by many of the friends of the ministry. It was plain that Montague was preparing a retreat for himself. This flinching of the captain, just on the eve of a perilous campaign, naturally disheartened the whole army. It deserves to be remarked that, more than eighty years later, another great parliamentary leader was placed in a very similar situation. The younger William Pitt held in 1784 the same offices which Montague had held in 1698. Pitt was pressed in 1784 by political difficulties not less than those with which Montague had contended in 1698. Pitt was also in 1784 a much poorer man than Montague in 1698. Pitt, in 1784, like Montage in 1698, had at his own absolute disposal a lucrative sinecure place in the Exchequer. Pitt gave away the office which would have made him an opulent man, and gave it away in such a manner as at once to reward unfortunate merit, and to relieve the country from a burden. For this disinterestedness he was repaid by the enthusiastic applause of his followers, by the enforced respect of his opponents, and by the confidence which, through all the vicissitudes of a chequered and at length disastrous career, the great body of Englishmen reposed in his public spirit and in his personal integrity. In the intellectual qualities of a statesman Montague was probably not inferior to Pitt. But the magnanimity, the dauntless courage, the contempt for riches and for baubles, to which, more than to any intellectual quality, Pitt owed his long ascendency, were wanting to Montague.
The faults of Montague were great; but his punishment was cruel. It was indeed a punishment which must have been more bitter than the bitterness of death to a man whose vanity was exquisitely sensitive, and who had been spoiled by early and rapid success and by constant prosperity. Before the new Parliament had been a month sitting it was plain that his empire was at an end. He spoke with the old eloquence; but his speeches no longer called forth the old response. Whatever he proposed was maliciously scrutinised. The success of his budget of the preceding year had surpassed all expectation. The two millions which he had undertaken to find had been raised with a rapidity which seemed magical. Yet for bringing the riches of the City, in an unprecedented flood, to overflow the Exchequer he was reviled as if his scheme had failed more ludicrously than the Tory Land Bank. Emboldened by his unpopularity, the Old East India Company presented a petition praying that the General Society Act, which his influence and eloquence had induced the late Parliament to pass, might be extensively modified. Howe took the matter up. It was moved that leave should be given to bring in a bill according to the prayer of the petition; the motion was carried by a hundred and seventy-five votes to a hundred and forty-eight; and the whole question of the trade with the Eastern seas was reopened. The bill was brought in, but was, with great difficulty and by a very small majority, thrown out on the second reading. 3 On other financial questions Montague, so lately the oracle of the Committee of Supply, was now heard with malevolent distrust. If his enemies were unable to detect any flaw in his reasonings and calculations, they could at least whisper that Mr. Montague was very cunning, that it was not easy to track him, but that it might be taken for granted that for whatever he did he had some sinister motive, and that the safest course was to negative whatever he proposed. Though that House of Commons was economical even to a vice, the majority preferred paying high interest to paying low interest, solely because the plan for raising money at low interest had been framed by him. In a despatch from the Dutch embassy the States General were informed that many of the votes of that session which had caused astonishment out of doors were to be ascribed to nothing but to the bitter envy which the ability and fame of Montague had excited. It was not without a hard struggle and a sharp pang that the first Englishman who has held that high position which has now been long called the Leadership of the House of Commons submitted to be deposed. But he was set upon with cowardly malignity by whole rows of small men none of whom singly would have dared to look him in the face. A contemporary pamphleteer compared him to an owl in the sunshine pursued and pecked to death by flights of tiny birds. On one occasion he was irritated into uttering an oath. Then there was a cry of Order; and he was threatened with the Serjeant and the Tower. On another occasion he was moved even to shedding tears of rage and vexation, tears which only moved the mockery of his low minded and bad hearted foes.
If a minister were now to find himself thus situated in a House of Commons which had just been elected, and from which it would therefore be idle to appeal to the electors, he would instantly resign his office, and his adversaries would take his place. The change would be most advantageous to the public, even if we suppose his successor to be both less virtuous and less able than himself. For it is much better for the country to have a bad ministry than to have no ministry at all, and there would be no ministry at all if the executive departments were filled by men whom the representatives of the people took every opportunity of thwarting and insulting. That an unprincipled man should be followed by a majority of the House of Commons is no doubt an evil. But, when this is the case, he will nowhere be so harmless as at the head of affairs. As he already possesses the power to do boundless mischief, it is desirable to give him a strong motive to abstain from doing mischief; and such a motive he has from the moment that he is entrusted with the administration. Office of itself does much to equalise politicians. It by no means brings all characters to a level; but it does bring high characters down and low characters up towards a common standard. In power the most patriotic and most enlightened statesman finds that he must disappoint the expectations of his admirers; that, if he effects any good, he must effect it by compromise; that he must relinquish many favourite schemes; that he must bear with many abuses. On the other hand, power turns the very vices of the most worthless adventurer, his selfish ambition, his sordid cupidity, his vanity, his cowardice, into a sort of public spirit. The most greedy and cruel wrecker that ever put up false lights to lure mariners to their destruction will do his best to preserve a ship from going to pieces on the rocks, if he is taken on board of her and made pilot; and so the most profligate Chancellor of the Exchequer most wish that trade may flourish, that the revenue may come in well, and that he may be able to take taxes off instead of putting them on. The most profligate First Lord of the Admiralty must wish to receive news of a victory like that of the Nile rather than of a mutiny like that at the Nore. There is, therefore, a limit to the evil which is to be apprehended from the worst ministry that is likely ever to exist in England. But to the evil of having no ministry, to the evil of having a House of Commons permanently at war with the executive government, there is absolutely no limit. This was signally proved in 1699 and 1700. Had the statesmen of the junto, as soon as they had ascertained the temper of the new Parliament, acted as statesmen similarly situated would now act, great calamities would have been averted. The chiefs of the opposition must then have been called upon to form a government. With the power of the late ministry the responsibility of the late ministry would have been transferred to them; and that responsibility would at once have sobered them. The orator whose eloquence had been the delight of the Country party would have had to exert his ingenuity on a new set of topics. There would have been an end of his invectives against courtiers and placemen, of piteous meanings about the intolerable weight of the land tax, of his boasts that the militia of Kent and Sussex, without the help of a single regular soldier, would turn the conquerors of Landen to the right about. He would himself have been a courtier; he would himself have been a placeman; he would have known that he should be held accountable for all the misery which a national bankruptcy or a French invasion might produce; and, instead of labouring to get up a clamour for the reduction of imposts, and the disbanding of regiments, he would have employed all his talents and influence for the purpose of obtaining from Parliament the means of supporting public credit, and of putting the country in a good posture of defence. Meanwhile the statesmen who were out might have watched the new men, might have checked them when they were wrong, might have come to their help when, by doing right, they had raised a mutiny in their own absurd and perverse faction. In this way Montague and Somers might, in opposition, have been really far more powerful than they could be while they filled the highest posts in the executive government and were outvoted every day in the House of Commons. Their retirement would have mitigated envy; their abilities would have been missed and regretted; their unpopularity would have passed to their successors, who would have grievously disappointed vulgar expectation, and would have been under the necessity of eating their own words in every debate. The league between the Tories and the discontented Whigs would have been dissolved; and it is probable that, in a session or two, the public voice would have loudly demanded the recall of the best Keeper of the Great Seal, and of the best First Lord of the Treasury, the oldest man living could remember.
But these lessons, the fruits of the experience of five generations, had never been taught to the politicians of the seventeenth century. Notions imbibed before the Revolution still kept possession of the public mind. Not even Somers, the foremost man of his age in civil wisdom, thought it strange that one party should be in possession of the executive administration while the other predominated in the legislature. Thus, at the beginning of 1699, there ceased to be a ministry; and years elapsed before the servants of the Crown and the representatives of the people were again joined in an union as harmonious as that which had existed from the general election of 1695 to the general election of 1698. The anarchy lasted, with some short intervals of composedness, till the general election of 1765. No portion of our parliamentary history is less pleasing or more instructive. It will be seen that the House of Commons became altogether ungovernable, abused its gigantic power with unjust and insolent caprice, browbeat King and Lords, the Courts of Common Law and the Constituent bodies, violated rights guaranteed by the Great Charter, and at length made itself so odious that the people were glad to take shelter, under the protection of the throne and of the hereditary aristocracy, from the tyranny of the assembly which had been chosen by themselves.
The evil which had brought on so much discredit on representative institutions was of gradual though of rapid growth, and did not, in the first session of the Parliament of 1698, take the most alarming form. The lead of the House of Commons had, however, entirely passed away from Montague, who was still the first minister of finance, to the chiefs of the turbulent and discordant opposition. Among those chiefs the most powerful was Harley, who, while almost constantly acting with the Tories and High Churchmen, continued to use, on occasions cunningly selected, the political and religious phraseology which he had learned in his youth among the Roundheads. He thus, while high in the esteem of the country gentlemen and even of his hereditary enemies, the country parsons, retained a portion of the favour with which he and his ancestors had long been regarded by Whigs and Nonconformists. He was therefore peculiarly well qualified to act as mediator between the two sections of the majority.
The bill for the disbanding of the army passed with little opposition through the House till it reached the last stage. Then, at length, a stand was made, but in vain. Vernon wrote the next day to Shrewsbury that the ministers had had a division which they need not be ashamed of; for that they had mustered a hundred and fifty-four against two hundred and twenty-one. Such a division would not be considered as matter of boast by a Secretary of State in our time.
The bill went up to the House of Lords, where it was regarded with no great favour. But this was not one of those occasions on which the House of Lords can act effectually as a check on the popular branch of the legislature. No good would have been done by rejecting the bill for disbanding the troops, unless the King could have been furnished with the means of maintaining them; and with such means he could be furnished only by the House of Commons. Somers, in a speech of which both the eloquence and the wisdom were greatly admired, placed the question in the true light. He set forth strongly the dangers to which the jealousy and parsimony of the representatives of the people exposed the country. But any thing, he said, was better than that the King and the Peers should engage, without hope of success, in an acrimonious conflict with the Commons. Tankerville spoke with his usual ability on the same side. Nottingham and the other Tories remained silent; and the bill passed without a division.
By this time the King’s strong understanding had mastered, as it seldom failed, after a struggle, to master, his rebellious temper. He had made up his mind to fulfil his great mission to the end. It was with no common pain that he admitted it to be necessary for him to give his assent to the disbanding bill. But in this case it would have been worse than useless to resort to his veto. For, if the bill had been rejected, the army would have been dissolved, and he would have been left without even the seven thousand men whom the Commons were willing to allow him. He determined, therefore, to comply with the wish of his people, and at the same time to give them a weighty and serious but friendly admonition. Never had he succeeded better in suppressing the outward signs of his emotions than on the day on which he carried this determination into effect. The public mind was much excited. The crowds in the parks and streets were immense. The Jacobites came in troops, hoping to enjoy the pleasure of reading shame and rage on the face of him whom they most hated and dreaded. The hope was disappointed. The Prussian Minister, a discerning observer, free from the passions which distracted English society, accompanied the royal procession from St. James’s Palace to Westminster Hall. He well knew how bitterly William had been mortified, and was astonished to see him present himself to the public gaze with a serene and cheerful aspect.
The speech delivered from the throne was much admired; and the correspondent of the States General acknowledged that he despaired of exhibiting in a French translation the graces of style which distinguished the original. Indeed that weighty, simple and dignified eloquence which becomes the lips of a sovereign was seldom wanting in any composition of which the plan was furnished by William and the language by Somers. The King informed the Lords and Commons that he had come down to pass their bill as soon as it was ready for him. He could not indeed but think that they had carried the reduction of the army to a dangerous extent. He could not but feel that they had treated him unkindly in requiring him to part with those guards who had come over with him to deliver England, and who had since been near him on every field of battle. But it was his fixed opinion that nothing could be so pernicious to the State as that he should be regarded by his people with distrust, distrust of which he had not expected to be the object after what he had endeavoured, ventured, and acted, to restore and to secure their liberties. He had now, he said, told the Houses plainly the reason, the only reason, which had induced him to pass their bill; and it was his duty to tell them plainly, in discharge of his high trust, and in order that none might hold him accountable for the evils which he had vainly endeavoured to avert, that, in his judgment, the nation was left too much exposed.
When the Commons had returned to their chamber, and the King’s speech had been read from the chair, Howe attempted to raise a storm. A gross insult had been offered to the House. The King ought to be asked who had put such words into his mouth. But the spiteful agitator found no support. The majority were so much pleased with the King for promptly passing the bill that they were not disposed to quarrel with him for frankly declaring that he disliked it. It was resolved without a division that an address should be presented, thanking him for his gracious speech and for his ready compliance with the wishes of his people, and assuring him that his grateful Commons would never forget the great things which he had done for the country, would never give him cause to think them unkind or undutiful, and would, on all occasions, stand by him against all enemies.
Just at this juncture tidings arrived which might well raise misgivings in the minds of those who had voted for reducing the national means of defence. The Electoral Prince of Bavaria was no more. The Gazette which announced that the Disbanding Bill had received the royal assent informed the public that he was dangerously ill at Brussels. The next Gazette contained the news of his death. Only a few weeks had elapsed since all who were anxious for the peace of the world had learned with joy that he had been named heir to the Spanish throne. That the boy just entering upon life with such hopes should die, while the wretched Charles, long ago half dead, continued to creep about between his bedroom and his chapel, was an event for which, notwithstanding the proverbial uncertainty of life, the minds of men were altogether unprepared. A peaceful solution of the great question now seemed impossible. France and Austria were left confronting each other. Within a month the whole Continent might be in arms. Pious men saw in this stroke, so sudden and so terrible, the plain signs of the divine displeasure. God had a controversy with the nations. Nine years of fire, of slaughter and of famine had not been sufficient to reclaim a guilty world; and a second and more severe chastisement was at hand. Others muttered that the event which all good men lamented was to be ascribed to unprincipled ambition. It would indeed have been strange if, in that age, so important a death, happening at so critical a moment, had not been imputed to poison. The father of the deceased Prince loudly accused the Court of Vienna; and the imputation, though not supported by the slightest evidence, was, during some time, believed by the vulgar.
The politicians at the Dutch embassy imagined that now at length the parliament would listen to reason. It seemed that even the country gentlemen must begin to contemplate the probability of an alarming crisis. The merchants of the Royal Exchange, much better acquainted than the country gentlemen with foreign lands, and much more accustomed than the country gentlemen to take large views, were in great agitation. Nobody could mistake the beat of that wonderful pulse which had recently begun, and has during five generations continued, to indicate the variations of the body politic. When Littleton was chosen speaker, the stocks rose. When it was resolved that the army should be reduced to seven thousand men, the stocks fell. When the death of the Electoral Prince was known, they fell still lower. The subscriptions to a new loan, which the Commons had, from mere spite to Montague, determined to raise on conditions of which he disapproved, came in very slowly. The signs of a reaction of feeling were discernible both in and out of Parliament. Many men are alarmists by constitution. Trenchard and Howe had frightened most men by writing and talking about the danger to which liberty and property would be exposed if the government were allowed to keep a large body of Janissaries in pay. The danger had ceased to exist; and those people who must always be afraid of something, as they could no longer be afraid of a standing army, began to be afraid of the French King. There was a turn in the tide of public opinion; and no part of statesmanship is more important than the art of taking the tide of public opinion at the turn. On more than one occasion William showed himself a master of that art. But, on the present occasion, a sentiment, in itself amiable and respectable, led him to commit the greatest mistake of his whole life. Had he at this conjuncture again earnestly pressed on the Houses the importance of providing for the defence of the kingdom, and asked of them an additional number of English troops, it is not improbable that he might have carried his point; it is certain that, if he had failed, there would have been nothing ignominious in his failure. Unhappily, instead of raising a great public question, on which he was in the right, on which he had a good chance of succeeding, and on which he might have been defeated without any loss of dignity, he chose to raise a personal question, on which he was in the wrong, on which, right or wrong, he was sure to be beaten, and on which he could not be beaten without being degraded. Instead of pressing for more English regiments, he exerted all his influence to obtain for the Dutch guards permission to remain in the island.
The first trial of strength was in the Upper House. A resolution was moved there to the effect that the Lords would gladly concur in any plan that could be suggested for retaining the services of the Dutch brigade. The motion was carried by fifty-four votes to thirty-eight. But a protest was entered, and was signed by all the minority. It is remarkable that Devonshire was, and that Marlborough was not, one of the Dissentients. Marlborough had formerly made himself conspicuous by the keenness and pertinacity with which he had attacked the Dutch. But he had now made his peace with the Court, and was in the receipt of a large salary from the civil list. He was in the House on that day; and therefore, if he voted, must have voted with the majority. The Cavendishes had generally been strenuous supporters of the King and the junto. But on the subject of the foreign troops Hartington in one House and his father in the other were intractable.
This vote of the Lords caused much murmuring among the Commons. It was said to be most unparliamentary to pass a bill one week, and the next week to pass a resolution condemning that bill. It was true that the bill had been passed before the death of the Electoral Prince was known in London. But that unhappy event, though it might be a good reason for increasing the English army, could be no reason for departing from the principle that the English army should consist of Englishmen. A gentleman who despised the vulgar clamour against professional soldiers, who held the doctrine of Somers’s Balancing Letter, and who was prepared to vote for twenty or even thirty thousand men, might yet well ask why any of those men should be foreigners. Were our countrymen naturally inferior to men of other races in any of the qualities which, under proper training, make excellent soldiers? That assuredly was not the opinion of the Prince who had, at the head of Ormond’s Life Guards, driven the French household troops, till, then invincible, back over the ruins of Neerwinden, and whose eagle eye and applauding voice had followed Cutts’s grenadiers up the glacis of Namur. Bitter spirited malecontents muttered that, since there was no honourable service which could not be as well performed by the natives of the realm as by alien mercenaries, it might well be suspected that the King wanted his alien mercenaries for some service not honourable. If it were necessary to repel a French invasion or to put down an Irish insurrection, the Blues and the Buffs would stand by him to the death. But, if his object were to govern in defiance of the votes of his Parliament and of the cry of his people, he might well apprehend that English swords and muskets would, at the crisis, fail him, as they had failed his father in law, and might well wish to surround himself with men who were not of our blood, who had no reverence for our laws, and no sympathy with our feelings. Such imputations could find credit with no body superior in intelligence to those clownish squires who with difficulty managed to spell out Dyer’s Letter over their ale. Men of sense and temper admitted that William had never shown any disposition to violate the solemn compact which he had made with the nation, and that, even if he were depraved enough to think of destroying the constitution by military violence, he was not imbecile enough to imagine that the Dutch brigade, or five such brigades, would suffice for his purpose. But such men, while they fully acquitted him of the design attributed to him by factious malignity, could not acquit him of a partiality which it was natural that he should feel, but which it would have been wise in him to hide, and with which it was impossible that his subjects should sympathise. He ought to have known that nothing is more offensive to free and proud nations than the sight of foreign uniforms and standards. Though not much conversant with books, he must have been acquainted with the chief events in the history of his own illustrious House; and he could hardly have been ignorant that his great grandfather had commenced a long and glorious struggle against despotism by exciting the States General of Ghent to demand that all Spanish troops should be withdrawn from the Netherlands. The final parting between the tyrant and the future deliverer was not an event to be forgotten by any of the race of Nassau. “It was the States, Sir,” said the Prince of Orange. Philip seized his wrist with a convulsive grasp, and exclaimed, “Not the States, but you, you, you.”
William, however, determined to try whether a request made by himself in earnest and almost supplicating terms would induce his subjects to indulge his national partiality at the expense of their own. None of his ministers could flatter him with any hope of success. But on this subject he was too much excited to hear reason. He sent down to the Commons a message, not merely signed by himself according to the usual form, but written throughout with his own hand. He informed them that the necessary preparations had been made for sending away the guards who came with him to England, and that they would immediately embark, unless the House should, out of consideration for him, be disposed to retain them, which he should take very kindly. When the message had been read, a member proposed that a day might be fixed for the consideration of the subject. But the chiefs of the majority would not consent to any thing which might seem to indicate hesitation, and moved the previous question. The ministers were in a false position. It was out of their power to answer Harley when he sarcastically declared that he did not suspect them of having advised His Majesty on this occasion. If, he said, those gentlemen had thought it desirable that the Dutch brigade should remain in the kingdom, they would have done so before. There had been many opportunities of raising the question in a perfectly regular manner during the progress of the Disbanding Bill. Of those opportunities nobody had thought fit to avail himself; and it was now too late to reopen the question. Most of the other members who spoke against taking the message into consideration took the same line, declined discussing points which might have been discussed when the Disbanding Bill was before the House, and declared merely that they could not consent to any thing so unparliamentary as the repealing of an Act which had just been passed. But this way of dealing with the message was far too mild and moderate to satisfy the implacable malice of Howe. In his courtly days he had vehemently called on the King to use the Dutch for the purpose of quelling the insubordination of the English regiments. “None but the Dutch troops,” he said, “are to be trusted.” He was now not ashamed to draw a parallel between those very Dutch troops and the Popish Kernes whom James had brought over from Munster and Connaught to enslave our island. The general feeling was such that the previous question was carried without a division. A Committee was immediately appointed to draw up an address explaining the reasons which made it impossible for the House to comply with His Majesty’s wish. At the next sitting the Committee reported; and on the report there was an animated debate. The friends of the government thought the proposed address offensive. The most respectable members of the majority felt that it would be ungraceful to aggravate by harsh language the pain which must be caused by their conscientious opposition to the King’s wishes. Some strong expressions were therefore softened down; some courtly phrases were inserted; but the House refused to omit one sentence which almost reproachfully reminded the King that in his memorable Declaration of 1688 he had promised to send back all the foreign forces as soon as he had effected the deliverance of this country. The division was, however, very close. There were one hundred and fifty-seven votes for omitting this passage, and one hundred and sixty-three for retaining it. 4
The address was presented by the whole House. William’s answer was as good as it was possible for him, in the unfortunate position in which he had placed himself, to return. It showed that he was deeply hurt; but it was temperate and dignified. Those who saw him in private knew that his feelings had been cruelly lacerated. His body sympathised with his mind. His sleep was broken. His headaches tormented him more than ever. From those whom he had been in the habit of considering as his friends, and who had failed him in the recent struggle, he did not attempt to conceal his displeasure. The lucrative see of Worcester was vacant; and some powerful Whigs of the cider country wished to obtain it for John Hall, Bishop of Bristol. One of the Foleys, a family zealous for the Revolution, but hostile to standing armies, spoke to the King on the subject. “I will pay as much respect to your wishes,” said William, “as you and yours have paid to mine.” Lloyd of St. Asaph was translated to Worcester.
The Dutch Guards immediately began to march to the coast. After all the clamour which had been raised against them, the populace witnessed their departure rather with sorrow than with triumph. They had been long domiciled here; they had been honest and inoffensive; and many of them were accompanied by English wives and by young children who talked no language but English. As they traversed the capital, not a single shout of exultation was raised; and they were almost everywhere greeted with kindness. One rude spectator, indeed, was heard to remark that Hans made a much better figure, now that he had been living ten years on the fat of the land, than when he first came. “A pretty figure you would have made,” said a Dutch soldier, “if we had not come.” And the retort was generally applauded. It would not, however, be reasonable to infer from the signs of public sympathy and good will with which the foreigners were dismissed that the nation wished them to remain. It was probably because they were going that they were regarded with favour by many who would never have seen them relieve guard at St. James’s without black looks and muttered curses.
Side by side with the discussion about the land force had been proceeding a discussion, scarcely less animated, about the naval administration. The chief minister of marine was a man whom it had once been useless and even perilous to attack in the Commons. It was to no purpose that, in 1693, grave charges, resting on grave evidence, had been brought against the Russell who had conquered at La Hogue. The name of Russell acted as a spell on all who loved English freedom. The name of La Hogue acted as a spell on all who were proud of the glory of the English arms. The accusations, unexamined and unrefuted, were contemptuously flung aside; and the thanks of the House were voted to the accused commander without one dissentient voice. But times had changed. The Admiral still had zealous partisans; but the fame of his exploits had lost their gloss; people in general were quick to discern his faults; and his faults were but too discernible. That he had carried on a traitorous correspondence with Saint Germains had not been proved, and had been pronounced by the representatives of the people to be a foul calumny. Yet the imputation had left a stain on his name. His arrogant, insolent and quarrelsome temper made him an object of hatred. His vast and growing wealth made him an object of envy. What his official merits and demerits really were it is not easy to discover through the mist made up of factious abuse and factious panegyric. One set of writers described him as the most ravenous of all the plunderers of the poor overtaxed nation. Another set asserted that under him the ships were better built and rigged, the crews were better disciplined and better tempered, the biscuit was better, the beer was better, the slops were better, than under any of his predecessors; and yet that the charge to the public was less than it had been when the vessels were unseaworthy, when the sailors were riotous, when the food was alive with vermin, when the drink tasted like tanpickle, and when the clothes and hammocks were rotten. It may, however, be observed that these two representations are not inconsistent with each other; and there is strong reason to believe that both are, to a great extent, true. Orford was covetous and unprincipled; but he had great professional skill and knowledge, great industry, and a strong will. He was therefore an useful servant of the state when the interests of the state were not opposed to his own; and this was more than could be said of some who had preceded him. He was, for example, an incomparably better administrator than Torrington. For Torrington’s weakness and negligence caused ten times as much mischief as his rapacity. But, when Orford had nothing to gain by doing what was wrong, he did what was right, and did it ably and diligently. Whatever Torrington did not embezzle he wasted. Orford may have embezzled as much as Torrington; but he wasted nothing.
Early in the session, the House of Commons resolved itself into a Committee on the state of the Navy. This Committee sate at intervals during more than three months. Orford’s administration underwent a close scrutiny, and very narrowly escaped a severe censure. A resolution condemning the manner in which his accounts had been kept was lost by only one vote. There were a hundred and forty against him, and a hundred and forty-one for him. When the report was presented to the House, another attempt was made to put a stigma upon him. It was moved that the King should be requested to place the direction of maritime affairs in other hands. There were a hundred and sixty Ayes to a hundred and sixty-four Noes. With this victory, a victory hardly to be distinguished from a defeat, his friends were forced to be content. An address setting forth some of the abuses in the naval department, and beseeching King William to correct them, was voted without a division. In one of those abuses Orford was deeply interested. He was First Lord of the Admiralty; and he had held, ever since the Revolution, the lucrative place of Treasurer of the Navy. It was evidently improper that two offices, one of which was meant to be a check on the other, should be united in the same person; and this the Commons represented to the King.
Questions relating to the military and naval Establishments occupied the attention of the Commons so much during the session that, until the prorogation was at hand, little was said about the resumption of the Crown grants. But, just before the Land Tax Bill was sent up to the Lords, a clause was added to it by which seven Commissioners were empowered to take account of the property forfeited in Ireland during the late troubles. The selection of those Commissioners the House reserved to itself. Every member was directed to bring a list containing the names of seven persons who were not members; and the seven names which appeared in the greatest number of lists were inserted in the bill. The result of the ballot was unfavourable to the government. Four of the seven on whom the choice fell were connected with the opposition; and one of them, Trenchard, was the most conspicuous of the pamphleteers who had been during many months employed in raising a cry against the army.
The Land Tax Bill, with this clause tacked to it, was carried to the Upper House. The Peers complained, and not without reason, of this mode of proceeding. It may, they said, be very proper that Commissioners should be appointed by Act of Parliament to take account of the forfeited property in Ireland. But they should be appointed by a separate Act. Then we should be able to make amendments, to ask for conferences, to give and receive explanations. The Land Tax Bill we cannot amend. We may indeed reject it; but we cannot reject it without shaking public credit, without leaving the kingdom defenceless, without raising a mutiny in the navy. The Lords yielded, but not without a protest which was signed by some strong Whigs and some strong Tories. The King was even more displeased than the Peers. “This Commission,” he said, in one of his private letters, “will give plenty of trouble next winter.” It did indeed give more trouble than he at all anticipated, and brought the nation nearer than it has ever since been to the verge of another revolution.
And now the supplies had been voted. The spring was brightening and blooming into summer. The lords and squires were sick of London; and the King was sick of England. On the fourth day of May he prorogued the Houses with a speech very different from the speeches with which he had been in the habit of dismissing the preceding Parliament. He uttered not one word of thanks or praise. He expressed a hope that, when they should meet again, they would make effectual provision for the public safety. “I wish,” these were his concluding words, “no mischief may happen in the mean time.” The gentlemen who thronged the bar withdrew in wrath, and, as they could not take immediate vengeance, laid up his reproaches in their hearts against the beginning of the next session.
The Houses had broken up; but there was still much to be done before the King could set out for Loo. He did not yet perceive that the true way to escape from his difficulties was to form an entirely new ministry possessing the confidence of the majority which had, in the late session, been found so unmanageable. But some partial changes he could not help making. The recent votes of the Commons forced him seriously to consider the state of the Board of Admiralty. It was impossible that Orford could continue to preside at that Board and be at the same time Treasurer of the Navy. He was offered his option. His own wish was to keep the Treasurership, which was both the more lucrative and the more secure of his two places. But it was so strongly represented to him that he would disgrace himself by giving up great power for the sake of gains which, rich and childless as he was, ought to have been beneath his consideration, that he determined to remain at the Admiralty. He seems to have thought that the sacrifice which he had made entitled him to govern despotically the department at which he had been persuaded to remain. But he soon found that the King was determined to keep in his own hands the power of appointing and removing the junior Lords. One of these Lords, especially, the First Commissioner hated, and was bent on ejecting, Sir George Rooke, who was Member of Parliament for Portsmouth. Rooke was a brave and skilful officer, and had, therefore, though a Tory in politics, been suffered to keep his place during the ascendency of the Whig junto. Orford now complained to the King that Rooke had been in correspondence with the factious opposition which had given so much trouble, and had lent the weight of his professional and official authority to the accusations which had been brought against the naval administration. The King spoke to Rooke, who declared that Orford had been misinformed. “I have a great respect for my Lord; and on proper occasions I have not failed to express it in public. There have certainly been abuses at the Admiralty which I am unable to defend. When those abuses have been the subject of debate in the House of Commons, I have sate silent. But, whenever any personal attack has been made on my Lord, I have done him the best service that I could.” William was satisfied, and thought that Orford should have been satisfied too. But that haughty and perverse nature could be content with nothing but absolute dominion. He tendered his resignation, and could not be induced to retract it. He said that he could be of no use. It would be easy to supply his place; and his successors should have his best wishes. He then retired to the country, where, as was reported and may easily be believed, he vented his ill humour in furious invectives against the King. The Treasurership of the Navy was given to the Speaker Littleton. The Earl of Bridgewater, a nobleman of very fair character and of some experience in business, became First Lord of the Admiralty.
Other changes were made at the same time. There had during some time been really no Lord President of the Council. Leeds, indeed, was still called Lord President, and, as such, took precedence of dukes of older creation; but he had not performed any of the duties of his office since the prosecution instituted against him by the Commons in 1695 had been suddenly stopped by an event which made the evidence of his guilt at once legally defective and morally complete. It seems strange that a statesman of eminent ability, who had been twice Prime Minister, should have wished to hold, by so ignominious a tenure, a place which can have had no attraction for him but the salary. To that salary, however, Leeds had clung, year after year; and he now relinquished it with a very bad grace. He was succeeded by Pembroke; and the Privy Seal which Pembroke laid down was put into the hands of a peer of recent creation, Viscount Lonsdale. Lonsdale had been distinguished in the House of Commons as Sir John Lowther, and had held high office, but had quitted public life in weariness and disgust, and had passed several years in retirement at his hereditary seat in Cumberland. He had planted forests round his house, and had employed Verrio to decorate the interior with gorgeous frescoes which represented the gods at their banquet of ambrosia. Very reluctantly, and only in compliance with the earnest and almost angry importunity of the King, Lonsdale consented to leave his magnificent retreat, and again to encounter the vexations of public life.
Trumball resigned the Secretaryship of State; and the Seals which he had held were given to Jersey, who was succeeded at Paris by the Earl of Manchester.
It is to be remarked that the new Privy Seal and the new Secretary of State were moderate Tories. The King had probably hoped that, by calling them to his councils, he should conciliate the opposition. But the device proved unsuccessful; and soon it appeared that the old practice of filling the chief offices of state with men taken from various parties, and hostile to one another, or, at least, unconnected with one another, was altogether unsuited to the new state of affairs; and that, since the Commons had become possessed of supreme power, the only way to prevent them from abusing that power with boundless folly and violence was to intrust the government to a ministry which enjoyed their confidence.
While William was making these changes in the great offices of state, a change in which he took a still deeper interest was taking place in his own household. He had laboured in vain during many months to keep the peace between Portland and Albemarle. Albemarle, indeed, was all courtesy, good humour, and submission; but Portland would not be conciliated. Even to foreign ministers he railed at his rival and complained of his master. The whole Court was divided between the competitors, but divided very unequally. The majority took the side of Albemarle, whose manners were popular and whose power was evidently growing. Portland’s few adherents were persons who, like him, had already made their fortunes, and who did not therefore think it worth their while to transfer their homage to a new patron. One of these persons tried to enlist Prior in Portland’s faction, but with very little success. “Excuse me,” said the poet, “if I follow your example and my Lord’s. My Lord is a model to us all; and you have imitated him to good purpose. He retires with half a million. You have large grants, a lucrative employment in Holland, a fine house. I have nothing of the kind. A court is like those fashionable churches into which we have looked at Paris. Those who have received the benediction are instantly away to the Opera House or the wood of Boulogne. Those who have not received the benediction are pressing and elbowing each other to get near the altar. You and my Lord have got your blessing, and are quite right to take yourselves off with it. I have not been blest, and must fight my way up as well as I can.” Prior’s wit was his own. But his worldly wisdom was common to him with multitudes; and the crowd of those who wanted to be lords of the bedchamber, rangers of parks, and lieutenants of counties, neglected Portland and tried to ingratiate themselves with Albemarle.
By one person, however, Portland was still assiduously courted; and that person was the King. Nothing was omitted which could soothe an irritated mind. Sometimes William argued, expostulated and implored during two hours together. But he found the comrade of his youth an altered man, unreasonable, obstinate and disrespectful even before the public eye. The Prussian minister, an observant and impartial witness, declared that his hair had more than once stood on end to see the rude discourtesy with which the servant repelled the gracious advances of the master. Over and over William invited his old friend to take the long accustomed seat in his royal coach, that seat which Prince George himself had never been permitted to invade; and the invitation was over and over declined in a way which would have been thought uncivil even between equals. A sovereign could not, without a culpable sacrifice of his personal dignity, persist longer in such a contest. Portland was permitted to withdraw from the palace. To Heinsius, as to a common friend, William announced this separation in a letter which shows how deeply his feelings had been wounded. “I cannot tell you what I have suffered. I have done on my side every thing that I could do to satisfy him; but it was decreed that a blind jealousy should make him regardless of every thing that ought to have been dear to him.” To Portland himself the King wrote in language still more touching. “I hope that you will oblige me in one thing. Keep your key of office. I shall not consider you as bound to any attendance. But I beg you to let me see you as often as possible. That will be a great mitigation of the distress which you have caused me. For, after all that has passed, I cannot help loving you tenderly.”
Thus Portland retired to enjoy at his ease immense estates scattered over half the shires of England, and a hoard of ready money, such, it was said, as no other private man in Europe possessed. His fortune still continued to grow. For, though, after the fashion of his countrymen, he laid out large sums on the interior decoration of his houses, on his gardens, and on his aviaries, his other expenses were regulated with strict frugality. His repose was, however, during some years not uninterrupted. He had been trusted with such grave secrets, and employed in such high missions, that his assistance was still frequently necessary to the government; and that assistance was given, not, as formerly, with the ardour of a devoted friend, but with the exactness of a conscientious servant. He still continued to receive letters from William; letters no longer indeed overflowing with kindness, but always indicative of perfect confidence and esteem.
The chief subject of those letters was the question which had been for a time settled in the previous autumn at Loo, and which had been reopened in the spring by the death of the Electoral Prince of Bavaria.
As soon as that event was known at Paris, Lewis directed Tallard to sound William as to a new treaty. The first thought which occurred to William was that it might be possible to put the Elector of Bavaria in his son’s place. But this suggestion was coldly received at Versailles, and not without reason. If, indeed, the young Francis Joseph had lived to succeed Charles, and had then died a minor without issue, the case would have been very different. Then the Elector would have been actually administering the government of the Spanish monarchy, and, supported by France, England and the United Provinces, might without much difficulty have continued to rule as King the empire which he had begun to rule as Regent. He would have had also, not indeed a right, but something which to the vulgar would have looked like a right, to be his son’s heir. Now he was altogether unconnected with Spain. No more reason could be given for selecting him to be the Catholic King than for selecting the Margrave of Baden or the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Something was said about Victor Amadeus of Savoy, and something about the King of Portugal; but to both there were insurmountable objections. It seemed, therefore, that the only choice was between a French Prince and an Austrian Prince; and William learned, with agreeable surprise, that Lewis might possibly be induced to suffer the younger Archduke to be King of Spain and the Indies. It was intimated at the same time that the House of Bourbon would expect, in return for so great a concession to the rival House of Habsburg, greater advantages than had been thought sufficient when the Dauphin consented to waive his claims in favour of a candidate whose elevation could cause no jealousies. What Lewis demanded, in addition to the portion formerly assigned to France, was the Milanese. With the Milanese he proposed to buy Lorraine from its Duke. To the Duke of Lorraine this arrangement would have been beneficial, and to the people of Lorraine more beneficial still. They were, and had long been, in a singularly unhappy situation. Lewis domineered over them as if they had been his subjects, and troubled himself as little about their happiness as if they had been his enemies. Since he exercised as absolute a power over them as over the Normans and Burgundians, it was desirable that he should have as great an interest in their welfare as in the welfare of the Normans and Burgundians.
On the basis proposed by France William was willing to negotiate; and, when, in June 1699, he left Kensington to pass the summer at Loo, the terms of the treaty known as the Second Treaty of Partition were very nearly adjusted. The great object now was to obtain the consent of the Emperor. That consent, it should seem, ought to have been readily and even eagerly given. Had it been given, it might perhaps have saved Christendom from a war of eleven years. But the policy of Austria was, at that time, strangely dilatory and irresolute. It was in vain that William and Heinsius represented the importance of every hour. “The Emperor’s ministers go on dawdling,” so the King wrote to Heinsius, “not because there is any difficulty about the matter, not because they mean to reject the terms, but solely because they are people who can make up their minds to nothing.” While the negotiation at Vienna was thus drawn out into endless length, evil tidings came from Madrid.
Spain and her King had long been sunk so low that it seemed impossible for him to sink lower. Yet the political maladies of the monarchy and the physical maladies of the monarch went on growing, and exhibited every day some new and frightful symptom. Since the death of the Bavarian Prince, the Court had been divided between the Austrian faction, of which the Queen and the leading ministers Oropesa and Melgar were the chiefs, and the French faction, of which the most important member was Cardinal Portocarrero, Archbishop of Toledo. At length an event which, as far as can now be judged, was not the effect of a deeply meditated plan, and was altogether unconnected with the disputes about the succession, gave the advantage to the adherents of France. The government, having committed the great error of undertaking to supply Madrid with food, committed the still greater error of neglecting to perform what it had undertaken. The price of bread doubled. Complaints were made to the magistrates, and were heard with the indolent apathy characteristic of the Spanish administration from the highest to the lowest grade. Then the populace rose, attacked the house of Oropesa, poured by thousands into the great court of the palace, and insisted on seeing the King. The Queen appeared in a balcony, and told the rioters that His Majesty was asleep. Then the multitude set up a roar of fury. “It is false; we do not believe you. We will see him.” “He has slept too long,” said one threatening voice; “and it is high time that he should wake.” The Queen retired weeping; and the wretched being on whose dominions the sun never set tottered to the window, bowed as he had never bowed before, muttered some gracious promises, waved a handkerchief in the air, bowed again, and withdrew. Oropesa, afraid of being torn to pieces, retired to his country seat. Melgar made some show of resistance, garrisoned his house, and menaced the rabble with a shower of grenades, but was soon forced to go after Oropesa; and the supreme power passed to Portocarrero.
Portocarrero was one of a race of men of whom we, happily for us, have seen very little, but whose influence has been the curse of Roman Catholic countries. He was, like Sixtus the Fourth and Alexander the Sixth, a politician made out of an impious priest. Such politicians are generally worse than the worst of the laity, more merciless than any ruffian that can be found in camps, more dishonest than any pettifogger who haunts the tribunals. The sanctity of their profession has an unsanctifying influence on them. The lessons of the nursery, the habits of boyhood and of early youth, leave in the minds of the great majority of avowed infidels some traces of religion, which, in seasons of mourning and of sickness, become plainly discernible. But it is scarcely possible that any such trace should remain in the mind of the hypocrite who, during many years, is constantly going through what he considers as the mummery of preaching, saying mass, baptizing, shriving. When an ecclesiastic of this sort mixes in the contests of men of the world, he is indeed much to be dreaded as an enemy, but still more to be dreaded as an ally. From the pulpit where he daily employs his eloquence to embellish what he regards as fables, from the altar whence he daily looks down with secret scorn on the prostrate dupes who believe that he can turn a drop of wine into blood, from the confessional where he daily studies with cold and scientific attention the morbid anatomy of guilty consciences, he brings to courts some talents which may move the envy of the more cunning and unscrupulous of lay courtiers; a rare skill in reading characters and in managing tempers, a rare art of dissimulation, a rare dexterity in insinuating what it is not safe to affirm or to propose in explicit terms. There are two feelings which often prevent an unprincipled layman from becoming utterly depraved and despicable, domestic feeling, and chivalrous feeling. His heart may be softened by the endearments of a family. His pride may revolt from the thought of doing what does not become a gentleman. But neither with the domestic feeling nor with the chivalrous feeling has the wicked priest any sympathy. His gown excludes him from the closest and most tender of human relations, and at the same time dispenses him from the observation of the fashionable code of honour.
Such a priest was Portocarrero; and he seems to have been a consummate master of his craft. To the name of statesman he had no pretensions. The lofty part of his predecessor Ximenes was out of the range, not more of his intellectual, than his moral capacity. To reanimate a paralysed and torpid monarchy, to introduce order and economy into a bankrupt treasury, to restore the discipline of an army which had become a mob, to refit a navy which was perishing from mere rottenness, these were achievements beyond the power, beyond even the ambition, of that ignoble nature. But there was one task for which the new minister was admirably qualified, that of establishing, by means of superstitious terror, an absolute dominion over a feeble mind; and the feeblest of all minds was that of his unhappy sovereign. Even before the riot which had made the cardinal supreme in the state, he had succeeded in introducing into the palace a new confessor selected by himself. In a very short time the King’s malady took a new form. That he was too weak to lift his food to his misshapen mouth, that, at thirty-seven, he had the bald head and wrinkled face of a man of seventy, that his complexion was turning from yellow to green, that he frequently fell down in fits and remained long insensible, these were no longer the worst symptoms of his malady. He had always been afraid of ghosts and demons; and it had long been necessary that three friars should watch every night by his restless bed as a guard against hobgoblins. But now he was firmly convinced that he was bewitched, that he was possessed, that there was a devil within him, that there were devils all around him. He was exorcised according to the forms of his Church; but this ceremony, instead of quieting him, scared him out of almost all the little reason that nature had given him. In his misery and despair he was induced to resort to irregular modes of relief. His confessor brought to court impostors who pretended that they could interrogate the powers of darkness. The Devil was called up, sworn and examined. This strange deponent made oath, as in the presence of God, that His Catholic Majesty was under a spell, which had been laid on him many years before, for the purpose of preventing the continuation of the royal line. A drug had been compounded out of the brains and kidneys of a human corpse, and had been administered in a cup of chocolate. This potion had dried up all the sources of life; and the best remedy to which the patient could now resort would be to swallow a bowl of consecrated oil every morning before breakfast. Unhappily, the authors of this story fell into contradictions which they could excuse only by throwing the blame on Satan, who, they said, was an unwilling witness, and a liar from the beginning. In the midst of their conjuring, the Inquisition came down upon them. It must be admitted that, if the Holy Office had reserved all its terrors for such cases, it would not now have been remembered as the most hateful judicature that was ever known among civilised men. The subaltern impostors were thrown into dungeons. But the chief criminal continued to be master of the King and of the kingdom. Meanwhile, in the distempered mind of Charles one mania succeeded another. A longing to pry into those mysteries of the grave from which human beings avert their thoughts had long been hereditary in his house. Juana, from whom the mental constitution of her posterity seems to have derived a morbid taint, had sate, year after year, by the bed on which lay the ghastly remains of her husband, apparelled in the rich embroidery and jewels which he had been wont to wear while living. Her son Charles found an eccentric pleasure in celebrating his own obsequies, in putting on his shroud, placing himself in the coffin, covering himself with the pall; and lying as one dead till the requiem had been sung, and the mourners had departed leaving him alone in the tomb. Philip the Second found a similar pleasure in gazing on the huge chest of bronze in which his remains were to be laid, and especially on the skull which, encircled with the crown of Spain, grinned at him from the cover. Philip the Fourth, too, hankered after burials and burial places, gratified his curiosity by gazing on the remains of his great grandfather, the Emperor, and sometimes stretched himself out at full length like a corpse in the niche which he had selected for himself in the royal cemetery. To that cemetery his son was now attracted by a strange fascination. Europe could show no more magnificent place of sepulture. A staircase encrusted with jasper led down from the stately church of the Escurial into an octagon situated just beneath the high altar. The vault, impervious to the sun, was rich with gold and precious marbles, which reflected the blaze from a huge chandelier of silver. On the right and on the left reposed, each in a massy sarcophagus, the departed kings and queens of Spain. Into this mausoleum the King descended with a long train of courtiers, and ordered the coffins to be unclosed. His mother had been embalmed with such consummate skill that she appeared as she had appeared on her death bed. The body of his grandfather too seemed entire, but crumbled into dust at the first touch. From Charles neither the remains of his mother nor those of his grandfather could draw any sign of sensibility. But, when the gentle and graceful Louisa of Orleans, the miserable man’s first wife, she who had lighted up his dark existence with one short and pale gleam of happiness, presented herself, after the lapse of ten years, to his eyes, his sullen apathy gave way. “She is in heaven,” he cried; “and I shall soon be there with her;” and, with all the speed of which his limbs were capable, he tottered back to the upper air.
Such was the state of the Court of Spain when, in the autumn of 1699, it became known that, since the death of the Electoral Prince of Bavaria, the governments of France, of England and of the United Provinces, were busily engaged in framing a second Treaty of Partition. That Castilians would be indignant at learning that any foreign potentate meditated the dismemberment of that empire of which Castile was the head might have been foreseen. But it was less easy to foresee that William would be the chief and indeed almost the only object of their indignation. If the meditated partition really was unjustifiable, there could be no doubt that Lewis was far more to blame than William. For it was by Lewis, and not by William, that the partition had been originally suggested; and it was Lewis, and not William, who was to gain an accession of territory by the partition. Nobody could doubt that William would most gladly have acceded to any arrangement by which the Spanish monarchy, could be preserved entire without danger to the liberties of Europe, and that he had agreed to the division of that monarchy solely for the purpose of contenting Lewis. Nevertheless the Spanish ministers carefully avoided whatever could give offence to Lewis, and indemnified themselves by offering a gross indignity to William. The truth is that their pride had, as extravagant pride often has, a close affinity with meanness. They knew that it was unsafe to insult Lewis; and they believed that they might with perfect safety insult William. Lewis was absolute master of his large kingdom. He had at no great distance armies and fleets which one word from him would put in motion. If he were provoked, the white flag might in a few days be again flying on the walls of Barcelona. His immense power was contemplated by the Castilians with hope as well as with fear. He and he alone, they imagined, could avert that dismemberment of which they could not bear to think. Perhaps he might yet be induced to violate the engagements into which he had entered with England and Holland, if one of his grandsons were named successor to the Spanish throne. He, therefore, must be respected and courted. But William could at that moment do little to hurt or to help. He could hardly be said to have an army. He could take no step which would require an outlay of money without the sanction of the House of Commons; and it seemed to be the chief study of the House of Commons to cross him and to humble him. The history of the late session was known to the Spaniards principally by inaccurate reports brought by Irish friars. And, had those reports been accurate, the real nature of a Parliamentary struggle between the Court party and the Country party could have been but very imperfectly understood by the magnates of a realm in which there had not, during several generations, been any constitutional opposition to the royal pleasure. At one time it was generally believed at Madrid, not by the mere rabble, but by Grandees who had the envied privilege of going in coaches and four through the streets of the capital, that William had been deposed, that he had retired to Holland, that the Parliament had resolved that there should be no more kings, that a commonwealth had been proclaimed, and that a Doge was about to be appointed and, though this rumour turned out to be false, it was but too true that the English government was, just at that conjuncture, in no condition to resent slights. Accordingly, the Marquess of Canales, who represented the Catholic King at Westminster, received instructions to remonstrate in strong language, and was not afraid to go beyond those instructions. He delivered to the Secretary of State a note abusive and impertinent beyond all example and all endurance. His master, he wrote, had learnt with amazement that King William, Holland and other powers — for the ambassador, prudent even in his blustering, did not choose to name the King of France — were engaged in framing a treaty, not only for settling the succession to the Spanish crown, but for the detestable purpose of dividing the Spanish monarchy. The whole scheme was vehemently condemned as contrary to the law of nature and to the law of God. The ambassador appealed from the King of England to the Parliament, to the nobility, and to the whole nation, and concluded by giving notice that he should lay the whole case before the two Houses when next they met.
The style of this paper shows how strong an impression had been made on foreign nations by the unfortunate events of the late session. The King, it was plain, was no longer considered as the head of the government. He was charged with having committed a wrong; but he was not asked to make reparation. He was treated as a subordinate officer who had been guilty of an offence against public law, and was threatened with the displeasure of the Commons, who, as the real rulers of the state, were bound to keep their servants in order. The Lords justices read this outrageous note with indignation, and sent it with all speed to Loo. Thence they received, with equal speed, directions to send Canales out of the country. Our ambassador was at the same time recalled from Madrid; and all diplomatic intercourse between England and Spain was suspended.
It is probable that Canales would have expressed himself in a less unbecoming manner, had there not already existed a most unfortunate quarrel between Spain and William, a quarrel in which William was perfectly blameless, but in which the unanimous feeling of the English Parliament and of the English nation was on the side of Spain.
It is necessary to go back some years for the purpose of tracing the origin and progress of this quarrel. Few portions of our history are more interesting or instructive; but few have been more obscured and distorted by passion and prejudice. The story is an exciting one; and it has generally been told by writers whose judgment had been perverted by strong national partiality. Their invectives and lamentations have still to be temperately examined; and it may well be doubted whether, even now, after the lapse of more than a century and a half, feelings hardly compatible with temperate examination will not be stirred up in many minds by the name of Darien. In truth that name is associated with calamities so cruel that the recollection of them may not unnaturally disturb the equipoise even of a fair and sedate mind.
The man who brought these calamities on his country was not a mere visionary or a mere swindler. He was that William Paterson whose name is honourably associated with the auspicious commencement of a new era in English commerce and in English finance. His plan of a national bank, having been examined and approved by the most eminent statesmen who sate in the Parliament house at Westminster and by the most eminent merchants who walked the Exchange of London, had been carried into execution with signal success. He thought, and perhaps thought with reason, that his services had been ill requited. He was, indeed, one of the original Directors of the great corporation which owed its existence to him; but he was not reelected. It may easily be believed that his colleagues, citizens of ample fortune and of long experience in the practical part of trade, aldermen, wardens of companies, heads of firms well known in every Burse throughout the civilised world, were not well pleased to see among them in Grocers’ Hall a foreign adventurer whose whole capital consisted in an inventive brain and a persuasive tongue. Some of them were probably weak enough to dislike him for being a Scot; some were probably mean enough to be jealous of his parts and knowledge; and even persons who were not unfavourably disposed to him might have discovered, before they had known him long, that, with all his cleverness, he was deficient in common sense; that his mind was full of schemes which, at the first glance, had a specious aspect, but which, on closer examination, appeared to be impracticable or pernicious; and that the benefit which the public had derived from one happy project formed by him would be very dearly purchased if it were taken for granted that all his other projects must be equally happy. Disgusted by what he considered as the ingratitude of the English, he repaired to the Continent, in the hope that he might be able to interest the traders of the Hanse Towns and the princes of the German Empire in his plans. From the Continent he returned unsuccessful to London; and then at length the thought that he might be more justly appreciated by his countrymen than by strangers seems to have risen in his mind. Just at this time he fell in with Fletcher of Saltoun, who happened to be in England. These eccentric men soon became intimate. Each of them had his monomania; and the two monomaniac suited each other perfectly. Fletcher’s whole soul was possessed by a sore, jealous, punctilious patriotism. His heart was ulcerated by the thought of the poverty, the feebleness, the political insignificance of Scotland, and of the indignities which she had suffered at the hand of her powerful and opulent neighbour. When he talked of her wrongs his dark meagre face took its sternest expression; his habitual frown grew blacker, and his eyes flashed more than their wonted fire. Paterson, on the other hand, firmly believed himself to have discovered the means of making any state which would follow his counsel great and prosperous in a time which, when compared with the life of an individual, could hardly be called long, and which, in the life of a nation, was but as a moment. There is not the least reason to believe that he was dishonest. Indeed he would have found more difficulty in deceiving others had he not begun by deceiving himself. His faith to his own schemes was strong even to martyrdom; and the eloquence with which he illustrated and defended them had all the charm of sincerity and of enthusiasm. Very seldom has any blunder committed by fools, or any villany devised by impostors, brought on any society miseries so great as the dreams of these two friends, both of them men of integrity and both of them men of parts, were destined to bring on Scotland.
In 1695 the pair went down together to their native country. The Parliament of that country was then about to meet under the presidency of Tweeddale, an old acquaintance and country neighbour of Fletcher. On Tweeddale the first attack was made. He was a shrewd, cautious, old politician. Yet it should seem that he was not able to hold out against the skill and energy of the assailants. Perhaps, however, he was not altogether a dupe. The public mind was at that moment violently agitated. Men of all parties were clamouring for an inquiry into the slaughter of Glencoe. There was reason to fear that the session which was about to commence would be stormy. In such circumstances the Lord High Commissioner might think that it would be prudent to appease the anger of the Estates by offering an almost irresistible bait to their cupidity. If such was the policy of Tweeddale, it was, for the moment, eminently successful. The Parliament, which met burning with indignation, was soothed into good humour. The blood of the murdered Macdonalds continued to cry for vengeance in vain. The schemes of Paterson, brought forward under the patronage of the ministers of the Crown, were sanctioned by the unanimous voice of the Legislature.
The great projector was the idol of the whole nation. Men spoke to him with more profound respect than to the Lord High Commissioner. His antechamber was crowded with solicitors desirous to catch some drops of that golden shower of which he was supposed to be the dispenser. To be seen walking with him in the High Street, to be honoured by him with a private interview of a quarter of an hour, were enviable distinctions. He, after the fashion of all the false prophets who have deluded themselves and others, drew new faith in his own lie from the credulity of his disciples. His countenance, his voice, his gestures, indicated boundless self-importance. When he appeared in public he looked — such is the language of one who probably had often seen him — like Atlas conscious that a world was on his shoulders. But the airs which he gave himself only heightened the respect and admiration which he inspired. His demeanour was regarded as a model. Scotch men who wished to be thought wise looked as like Paterson as they could.
His plan, though as yet disclosed to the public only by glimpses, was applauded by all classes, factions and sects, lords, merchants, advocates, divines, Whigs and Jacobites, Cameronians and Episcopalians. In truth, of all the ten thousand bubbles of which history has preserved the memory, none was ever more skilfully puffed into existence; none ever soared higher, or glittered more brilliantly; and none ever burst with a more lamentable explosion. There was, however, a certain mixture of truth in the magnificent day dream which produced such fatal effects.
Scotland was, indeed, not blessed with a mild climate or a fertile soil. But the richest spots that had ever existed on the face of the earth had been spots quite as little favoured by nature. It was on a bare rock, surrounded by deep sea, that the streets of Tyre were piled up to a dizzy height. On that sterile crag were woven the robes of Persian satraps and Sicilian tyrants; there were fashioned silver bowls and chargers for the banquets of kings; and there Pomeranian amber was set in Lydian gold to adorn the necks of queens. In the warehouses were collected the fine linen of Egypt and the odorous gums of Arabia; the ivory of India, and the tin of Britain. In the port lay fleets of great ships which had weathered the storms of the Euxine and the Atlantic. Powerful and wealthy colonies in distant parts of the world looked up with filial reverence to the little island; and despots, who trampled on the laws and outraged the feelings of all the nations between the Hydaspes and the Aegean, condescended to court the population of that busy hive. At a later period, on a dreary bank formed by the soil which the Alpine streams swept down to the Adriatic, rose the palaces of Venice. Within a space which would not have been thought large enough for one of the parks of a rude northern baron were collected riches far exceeding those of a northern kingdom. In almost every one of the prorate dwellings which fringed the Great Canal were to be seen plate, mirrors, jewellery, tapestry, paintings, carving, such as might move the envy of the master of Holyrood. In the arsenal were munitions of war sufficient to maintain a contest against the whole power of the Ottoman Empire. And, before the grandeur of Venice had declined, another commonwealth, still less favoured, if possible, by nature, had rapidly risen to a power and opulence which the whole civilised world contemplated with envy and admiration. On a desolate marsh overhung by fogs and exhaling diseases, a marsh where there was neither wood nor stone, neither firm earth nor drinkable water, a marsh from which the ocean on one side and the Rhine on the other were with difficulty kept out by art, was to be found the most prosperous community in Europe. The wealth which was collected within five miles of the Stadthouse of Amsterdam would purchase the fee simple of Scotland. And why should this be? Was there any reason to believe that nature had bestowed on the Phoenician, on the Venetian, or on the Hollander, a larger measure of activity, of ingenuity, of forethought, of self command, than on the citizen of Edinburgh or Glasgow? The truth was that, in all those qualities which conduce to success in life, and especially in commercial life, the Scot had never been surpassed; perhaps he had never been equalled. All that was necessary was that his energy should take a proper direction, and a proper direction Paterson undertook to give.
His esoteric project was the original project of Christopher Columbus, extended and modified. Columbus had hoped to establish a communication between our quarter of the world and India across the great western ocean. But he was stopped by an unexpected obstacle. The American continent, stretching far north and far south into cold and inhospitable regions, presented what seemed an insurmountable barrier to his progress; and, in the same year in which he first set foot on that continent, Gama reached Malabar by doubling the Cape of Good Hope. The consequence was that during two hundred years the trade of Europe with the remoter parts of Asia had been carried on by rounding the immense peninsula of Africa. Paterson now revived the project of Columbus, and persuaded himself and others that it was possible to carry that project into effect in such a manner as to make his country the greatest emporium that had ever existed on our globe.
For this purpose it was necessary to occupy in America some spot which might be a resting place between Scotland and India. It was true that almost every habitable part of America had already been seized by some European power. Paterson, however, imagined that one province, the most important of all, had been overlooked by the short-sighted cupidity of vulgar politicians and vulgar traders. The isthmus which joined the two great continents of the New World remained, according to him, unappropriated. Great Spanish viceroyalties, he said, lay on the east and on the west; but the mountains and forests of Darien were abandoned to rude tribes which followed their own usages and obeyed their own princes. He had been in that part of the world, in what character was not quite clear. Some said that he had gone thither to convert the Indians, and some that he had gone thither to rob the Spaniards. But, missionary or pirate, he had visited Darien, and had brought away none but delightful recollections. The havens, he averred, were capacious and secure; the sea swarmed with turtle; the country was so mountainous that, within nine degrees of the equator, the climate was temperate; and yet the inequalities of the ground offered no impediment to the conveyance of goods. Nothing would be easier than to construct roads along which a string of mules or a wheeled carriage might in the course of a single day pass from sea to sea. The soil was, to the depth of several feet, a rich black mould, on which a profusion of valuable herbs and fruits grew spontaneously, and on which all the choicest productions of tropical regions might easily be raised by human industry and art; and yet the exuberant fertility of the earth had not tainted the purity of the air. Considered merely as a place of residence, the isthmus was a paradise. A colony placed there could not fail to prosper, even if it had no wealth except what was derived from agriculture. But agriculture was a secondary object in the colonization of Darien. Let but that precious neck of land be occupied by an intelligent, an enterprising, a thrifty race; and, in a few years, the whole trade between India and Europe must be drawn to that point. The tedious and perilous passage round Africa would soon be abandoned. The merchant would no longer expose his cargoes to the mountainous billows and capricious gales of the Antarctic seas. The greater part of the voyage from Europe to Darien, and the whole voyage from Darien to the richest kingdoms of Asia, would be a rapid yet easy gliding before the trade winds over blue and sparkling waters. The voyage back across the Pacific would, in the latitude of Japan, be almost equally speedy and pleasant. Time, labour, money, would be saved. The returns would come in more quickly. Fewer hands would be required to navigate the ships. The loss of a vessel would be a rare event. The trade would increase fast. In a short time it would double; and it would all pass through Darien. Whoever possessed that door of the sea, that key of the universe — such were the bold figures which Paterson loved to employ — would give law to both hemispheres; and would, by peaceful arts, without shedding one drop of blood, establish an empire as splendid as that of Cyrus or Alexander. Of the kingdoms of Europe, Scotland was, as yet, the poorest and the least considered. If she would but occupy Darien, if she would but become one great free port, one great warehouse for the wealth which the soil of Darien might produce, and for the still greater wealth which would be poured into Darien from Canton and Siam, from Ceylon and the Moluccas, from the mouths of the Ganges and the Gulf of Cambay, she would at once take her place in the first rank among nations. No rival would be able to contend with her either in the West Indian or in the East Indian trade. The beggarly country, as it had been insolently called by the inhabitants of warmer and more fruitful regions, would be the great mart for the choicest luxuries, sugar, rum, coffee, chocolate, tobacco, the tea and porcelain of China, the muslin of Dacca, the shawls of Cashmere, the diamonds of Golconda, the pearls of Karrack, the delicious birds’ nests of Nicobar, cinnamon and pepper, ivory and sandal wood. From Scotland would come all the finest jewels and brocade worn by duchesses at the balls of St. James’s and Versailles. From Scotland would come all the saltpetre which would furnish the means of war to the fleets and armies of contending potentates. And on all the vast riches which would be constantly passing through the little kingdom a toll would be paid which would remain behind. There would be a prosperity such as might seem fabulous, a prosperity of which every Scotchman, from the peer to the cadie, would partake. Soon, all along the now desolate shores of the Forth and Clyde, villas and pleasure grounds would be as thick as along the edges of the Dutch canals. Edinburgh would vie with London and Paris; and the baillie of Glasgow or Dundee would have as stately and well furnished a mansion, and as fine a gallery of pictures, as any burgomaster of Amsterdam.
This magnificent plan was at first but partially disclosed to the public. A colony was to be planted; a vast trade was to be opened between both the Indies and Scotland; but the name of Darien was as yet pronounced only in whispers by Paterson and by his most confidential friends. He had however shown enough to excite boundless hopes and desires. How well he succeeded in inspiring others with his own feelings is sufficiently proved by the memorable Act to which the Lord High Commissioner gave the Royal sanction on the 26th of June 1695. By this Act some persons who were named, and such other persons as should join with them, were formed into a corporation, which was to be named the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies. The amount of the capital to be employed was not fixed by law; but it was provided that one half of the stock at least must be held by Scotchmen resident in Scotland, and that no stock which had been originally held by a Scotchman resident in Scotland should ever be transferred to any but a Scotchman resident in Scotland. An entire monopoly of the trade with Asia, Africa and America, for a term of thirty-one years, was granted to the Company. All goods imported by the Company were during twenty-one years to be duty free, with the exception of foreign sugar and tobacco. Sugar and tobacco grown on the Company’s own plantations were exempted from all taxation. Every member and every servant of the Company was to be privileged against impressment and arrest. If any of these privileged persons was impressed or arrested, the Company was authorised to release him, and to demand the assistance both of the civil and of the military power. The Company was authorised to take possession of unoccupied territories in any part of Asia, Africa or America, and there to plant colonies, to build towns and forts, to impose taxes, and to provide magazines, arms and ammunition, to raise troops, to wage war, to conclude treaties; and the King was made to promise that, if any foreign state should injure the Company, he would interpose, and would, at the public charge, obtain reparation. Lastly it was provided that, in order to give greater security and solemnity to this most exorbitant grant, the whole substance of the Act should be set forth in Letters Patent to which the Chancellor was directed to put the Great Seal without delay.
The letters were drawn; the Great Seal was affixed; the subscription books were opened; the shares were fixed at a hundred pounds sterling each; and from the Pentland Firth to the Solway Firth every man who had a hundred pounds was impatient to put down his name. About two hundred and twenty thousand pounds were actually paid up. This may not, at first sight, appear a large sum to those who remember the bubbles of 1825 and of 1845, and would assuredly not have sufficed to defray the charge of three months of war with Spain. Yet the effort was marvellous when it may be affirmed with confidence that the Scotch people voluntarily contributed for the colonisation of Darien a larger proportion of their substance than any other people ever, in the same space of time, voluntarily contributed to any commercial undertaking. A great part of Scotland was then as poor and rude as Iceland now is. There were five or six shires which did not altogether contain so many guineas and crowns as were tossed about every day by the shovels of a single goldsmith in Lombard Street. Even the nobles had very little ready money. They generally took a large part of their rents in kind, and were thus able, on their own domains, to live plentifully and hospitably. But there were many esquires in Kent and Somersetshire who received from their tenants a greater quantity of gold and silver than a Duke of Cordon or a Marquess of Atholl drew from extensive provinces. The pecuniary remuneration of the clergy was such as would have moved the pity of the most needy curate who thought it a privilege to drink his ale and smoke his pipe in the kitchen of an English manor house. Even in the fertile Merse there were parishes of which the minister received only from four to eight pounds sterling in cash. The official income of the Lord President of the Court of Session was only five hundred a year; that of the Lord Justice Clerk only four hundred a year. The land tax of the whole kingdom was fixed some years later by the Treaty of Union at little more than half the land tax of the single county of Norfolk. Four hundred thousand pounds probably bore as great a ratio to the wealth of Scotland then as forty millions would bear now.
The list of the members of the Darien Company deserves to be examined. The number of shareholders was about fourteen hundred. The largest quantity of stock registered in one name was three thousand pounds. The heads of three noble houses took three thousand pounds each, the Duke of Hamilton, the Duke of Queensbury and Lord Belhaven, a man of ability, spirit and patriotism, who had entered into the design with enthusiasm not inferior to that of Fletcher. Argyle held fifteen hundred pounds. John Dalrymple, but too well known as the Master of Stair, had just succeeded to his father’s title and estate, and was now Viscount Stair. He put down his name for a thousand pounds. The number of Scotch peers who subscribed was between thirty and forty. The City of Edinburgh, in its corporate capacity, took three thousand pounds, the City of Glasgow three thousand, the City of Perth two thousand. But the great majority of the subscribers contributed only one hundred or two hundred pounds each. A very few divines who were settled in the capital or in other large towns were able to purchase shares. It is melancholy to see in the roll the name of more than one professional man whose paternal anxiety led him to lay out probably all his hardly earned savings in purchasing a hundred pound share for each of his children. If, indeed, Paterson’s predictions had been verified, such a share would, according to the notions of that age and country, have been a handsome portion for the daughter of a writer or a surgeon.
That the Scotch are a people eminently intelligent, wary, resolute and self possessed, is obvious to the most superficial observation. That they are a people peculiarly liable to dangerous fits of passion and delusions of the imagination is less generally acknowledged, but is not less true. The whole kingdom seemed to have gone mad. Paterson had acquired an influence resembling rather that of the founder of a new religion, that of a Mahomet, that of a Joseph Smith, than that of a commercial projector. Blind faith in a religion, fanatical zeal for a religion, are too common to astonish us. But such faith and zeal seem strangely out of place in the transactions of the money market. It is true that we are judging after the event. But before the event materials sufficient for the forming of a sound judgment were within the reach of all who cared to use them. It seems incredible that men of sense, who had only a vague and general notion of Paterson’s scheme, should have staked every thing on the success of that scheme. It seems more incredible still that men to whom the details of that scheme had been confided should not have looked into any of the common books of history or geography in which an account of Darien might have been found, and should not have asked themselves the simple question, whether Spain was likely to endure a Scotch colony in the midst of her Transatlantic dominions. It was notorious that she claimed the sovereignty of the isthmus on specious, nay, on solid, grounds. A Spaniard had been the first discoverer of the coast of Darien. A Spaniard had built a town and established a government on that coast. A Spaniard had, with great labour and peril, crossed the mountainous neck of land, had seen rolling beneath him the vast Pacific, never before revealed to European eyes, had descended, sword in hand, into the waves up to his girdle, and had there solemnly taken possession of sea and shore in the name of the Crown of Castile. It was true that the region which Paterson described as a paradise had been found by the first Castilian settlers to be a land of misery and death. The poisonous air, exhaled from rank jungle and stagnant water, had compelled them to remove to the neighbouring haven of Panama; and the Red Indians had been contemptuously permitted to live after their own fashion on the pestilential soil. But that soil was still considered, and might well be considered, by Spain as her own. In many countries there were tracts of morass, of mountain, of forest, in which governments did not think it worth while to be at the expense of maintaining order, and in which rude tribes enjoyed by connivance a kind of independence. It was not necessary for the members of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies to look very far for an example. In some highland districts, not more than a hundred miles from Edinburgh, dwelt clans which had always regarded the authority of King, Parliament, Privy Council and Court of Session, quite as little as the aboriginal population of Darien regarded the authority of the Spanish Viceroys and Audiences. Yet it would surely have been thought an outrageous violation of public law in the King of Spain to take possession of Appin and Lochaber. And would it be a less outrageous violation of public law in the Scots to seize on a province in the very centre of his possessions, on the plea that this province was in the same state in which Appin and Lochaber had been during centuries?
So grossly unjust was Paterson’s scheme; and yet it was less unjust than impolitic. Torpid as Spain had become, there was still one point on which she was exquisitely sensitive. The slightest encroachment of any other European power even on the outskirts of her American dominions sufficed to disturb her repose and to brace her paralysed nerves. To imagine that she would tamely suffer adventurers from one of the most insignificant kingdoms of the Old World to form a settlement in the midst of her empire, within a day’s sail of Portobello on one side and of Carthagena on the other, was ludicrously absurd. She would have been just as likely to let them take possession of the Escurial. It was, therefore, evident that, before the new Company could even begin its commercial operations, there must be a war with Spain and a complete triumph over Spain. What means had the Company of waging such a war, and what chance of achieving such a triumph? The ordinary revenue of Scotland in time of peace was between sixty and seventy thousand a year. The extraordinary supplies granted to the Crown during the war with France had amounted perhaps to as much more. Spain, it is true, was no longer the Spain of Pavia and Lepanto. But, even in her decay, she possessed in Europe resources which exceeded thirty fold those of Scotland; and in America, where the struggle must take place, the disproportion was still greater. The Spanish fleets and arsenals were doubtless in wretched condition. But there were Spanish fleets; there were Spanish arsenals. The galleons, which sailed every year from Seville to the neighbourhood of Darien and from the neighbourhood of Darien back to Seville, were in tolerable condition, and formed, by themselves, a considerable armament. Scotland had not a single ship of the line, nor a single dockyard where such a ship could be built. A marine sufficient to overpower that of Spain must be, not merely equipped and manned, but created. An armed force sufficient to defend the isthmus against the whole power of the viceroyalties of Mexico and Peru must be sent over five thousand miles of ocean. What was the charge of such an expedition likely to be? Oliver had, in the preceding generation, wrested a West Indian island from Spain; but, in order to do this, Oliver, a man who thoroughly understood the administration of war, who wasted nothing, and who was excellently served, had been forced to spend, in a single year, on his navy alone, twenty times the ordinary revenue of Scotland; and, since his days, war had been constantly becoming more and more costly.
It was plain that Scotland could not alone support the charge of a contest with the enemy whom Paterson was bent on provoking. And what assistance was she likely to have from abroad? Undoubtedly the vast colonial empire and the narrow colonial policy of Spain were regarded with an evil eye by more than one great maritime power. But there was no great maritime power which would not far rather have seen the isthmus between the Atlantic and the Pacific in the hands of Spain than in the hands of the Darien Company. Lewis could not but dread whatever tended to aggrandise a state governed by William. To Holland the East India trade was as the apple of her eye. She had been the chief gainer by the discoveries of Gama; and it might be expected that she would do all that could be done by craft, and, if need were, by violence, rather than suffer any rival to be to her what she had been to Venice. England remained; and Paterson was sanguine enough to flatter himself that England might be induced to lend her powerful aid to the Company. He and Lord Belhaven repaired to London, opened an office in Clement’s Lane, formed a Board of Directors auxiliary to the Central Board at Edinburgh, and invited the capitalists of the Royal Exchange to subscribe for the stock which had not been reserved for Scotchmen resident in Scotland. A few moneyed men were allured by the bait; but the clamour of the City was loud and menacing; and from the City a feeling of indignation spread fast through the country. In this feeling there was undoubtedly a large mixture of evil. National antipathy operated on some minds, religious antipathy on others. But it is impossible to deny that the anger which Paterson’s schemes excited throughout the south of the island was, in the main, just and reasonable. Though it was not yet generally known in what precise spot his colony was to be planted, there could be little doubt that he intended to occupy some part of America; and there could be as little doubt that such occupation would be resisted. There would be a maritime war; and such a war Scotland had no means of carrying on. The state of her finances was such that she must be quite unable to fit out even a single squadron of moderate size. Before the conflict had lasted three months, she would have neither money nor credit left. These things were obvious to every coffeehouse politician; and it was impossible to believe that they had escaped the notice of men so able and well informed as some who sate in the Privy Council and Parliament at Edinburgh. In one way only could the conduct of these schemers be explained. They meant to make a dupe and a tool of the Southron. The two British kingdoms were so closely connected, physically and politically, that it was scarcely possible for one of them to be at peace with a power with which the other was at war. If the Scotch drew King William into a quarrel, England must, from regard to her own dignity which was bound up with his, support him in it. She was to be tricked into a bloody and expensive contest in the event of which she had no interest; nay, into a contest in which victory would be a greater calamity to her than defeat. She was to lavish her wealth and the lives of her seamen, in order that a set of cunning foreigners might enjoy a monopoly by which she would be the chief sufferer. She was to conquer and defend provinces for this Scotch Corporation; and her reward was to be that her merchants were to be undersold, her customers decoyed away, her exchequer beggared. There would be an end to the disputes between the old East India Company and the new East India Company; for both Companies would be ruined alike. The two great springs of revenue would be dried up together. What would be the receipt of the Customs, what of the Excise, when vast magazines of sugar, rum, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, tea, spices, silks, muslins, all duty free, should be formed along the estuaries of the Forth and of the Clyde, and along the border from the mouth of the Esk to the mouth of the Tweed? What army, what fleet, would be sufficient to protect the interests of the government and of the fair trader when the whole kingdom of Scotland should be turned into one great smuggling establishment? Paterson’s plan was simply this, that England should first spend millions in defence of the trade of his Company, and should then be plundered of twice as many millions by means of that very trade.
The cry of the city and of the nation was soon echoed by the legislature. When the Parliament met for the first time after the general election of 1695, Rochester called the attention of the Lords to the constitution and designs of the Company. Several witnesses were summoned to the bar, and gave evidence which produced a powerful effect on the House. “If these Scots are to have their way,” said one peer, “I shall go and settle in Scotland, and not stay here to be made a beggar.” The Lords resolved to represent strongly to the King the injustice of requiring England to exert her power in support of an enterprise which, if successful, must be fatal to her commerce and to her finances. A representation was drawn up and communicated to the Commons. The Commons eagerly concurred, and complimented the Peers on the promptitude with which their Lordships had, on this occasion, stood forth to protect the public interests. The two Houses went up together to Kensington with the address. William had been under the walls of Namur when the Act for incorporating the Company had been touched with his sceptre at Edinburgh, and had known nothing about that Act till his attention had been called to it by the clamour of his English subjects. He now said, in plain terms, that he had been ill served in Scotland, but that he would try to find a remedy for the evil which bad been brought to his notice. The Lord High Commissioner Tweeddale and Secretary Johnstone were immediately dismissed. But the Act which had been passed by their management still continued to be law in Scotland, nor was it in their master’s power to undo what they had done.
The Commons were not content with addressing the throne. They instituted an inquiry into the proceedings of the Scotch Company in London. Belhaven made his escape to his own country, and was there beyond the reach of the Serjeant-at-Arms. But Paterson and some of his confederates were severely examined. It soon appeared that the Board which was sitting in Clement’s Lane had done things which were certainly imprudent and perhaps illegal. The Act of Incorporation empowered the detectors to take and to administer to their servants an oath of fidelity. But that Act was on the south of the Tweed a nullity. Nevertheless the directors had, in the heart of the City of London, taken and administered this oath, and had thus, by implication, asserted that the powers conferred on them by the legislature of Scotland accompanied them to England. It was resolved that they had been guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour, and that they should be impeached. A committee was appointed to frame articles of impeachment; but the task proved a difficult one; and the prosecution was suffered to drop, not however till the few English capitalists who had at first been friendly to Paterson’s project had been terrified into renouncing all connection with him.
Now, surely, if not before, Paterson ought to have seen that his project could end in nothing but shame to himself and ruin to his worshippers. From the first it had been clear that England alone could protect his Company against the enmity of Spain; and it was now clear that Spain would be a less formidable enemy than England. It was impossible that his plan could excite greater indignation in the Council of the Indies at Madrid, or in the House of Trade at Seville, than it had excited in London. Unhappily he was given over to a strong delusion, and the blind multitude eagerly followed their blind leader. Indeed his dupes were maddened by that which should have sobered them. The proceedings of the Parliament which sate at Westminster, proceedings just and reasonable in substance, but in manner doubtless harsh and insolent, had roused the angry passions of a nation, feeble indeed in numbers and in material resources, but eminently high spirited. The proverbial pride of the Scotch was too much for their proverbial shrewdness. The votes of the English Lords and Commons were treated with marked contempt. The populace of Edinburgh burned Rochester in effigy. Money was poured faster than ever into the treasury of the Company. A stately house, in Milne Square, then the most modern and fashionable part of Edinburgh, was purchased and fitted up at once as an office and a warehouse. Ships adapted both for war and for trade were required; but the means of building such ships did not exist in Scotland; and no firm in the south of the island was disposed to enter into a contract which might not improbably be considered by the House of Commons as an impeachable offence. It was necessary to have recourse to the dockyards of Amsterdam and Hamburg. At an expense of fifty thousand pounds a few vessels were procured, the largest of which would hardly have ranked as sixtieth in the English navy; and with this force, a force not sufficient to keep the pirates of Sallee in check, the Company threw down the gauntlet to all the maritime powers in the world.
It was not till the summer of 1698 that all was ready for the expedition which was to change the face of the globe. The number of seamen and colonists who embarked at Leith was twelve hundred. Of the colonists many were younger sons of honourable families, or officers who had been disbanded since the peace. It was impossible to find room for all who were desirous of emigrating. It is said that some persons who had vainly applied for a passage hid themselves in dark corners about the ships, and, when discovered, refused to depart, clung to the rigging, and were at last taken on shore by main force. This infatuation is the more extraordinary because few of the adventurers knew to what place they were going. All that was quite certain was that a colony was to be planted somewhere, and to be named Caledonia. The general opinion was that the fleet would steer for some part of the coast of America. But this opinion was not universal. At the Dutch Embassy in Saint James’s Square there was an uneasy suspicion that the new Caledonia would be founded among those Eastern spice islands with which Amsterdam had long carried on a lucrative commerce.
The supreme direction of the expedition was entrusted to a Council of Seven. Two Presbyterian chaplains and a preceptor were on board. A cargo had been laid in which was afterwards the subject of much mirth to the enemies of the Company, slippers innumerable, four thousand periwigs of all kinds from plain bobs to those magnificent structures which, in that age, towered high above the foreheads and descended to the elbows of men of fashion, bales of Scotch woollen stuffs which nobody within the tropics could wear, and many hundreds of English bibles which neither Spaniard nor Indian could read. Paterson, flushed with pride and hope, not only accompanied the expedition, but took with him his wife, a comely dame, whose heart he had won in London, where she had presided over one of the great coffeehouses in the neighbourhood of the Royal Exchange. At length on the twenty-fifth of July the ships, followed by many tearful eyes, and commended to heaven in many vain prayers, sailed out of the estuary of the Forth.
The voyage was much longer than a voyage to the Antipodes now is; and the adventurers suffered much. The rations were scanty; there were bitter complaints both of the bread and of the meat; and, when the little fleet, after passing round the Orkneys and Ireland, touched at Madeira, those gentlemen who had fine clothes among their baggage were glad to exchange embroidered coats and laced waistcoats for provisions and wine. From Madeira the adventurers ran across the Atlantic, landed on an uninhabited islet lying between Porto Rico and St. Thomas, took possession of this desolate spot in the name of the Company, set up a tent, and hoisted the white cross of St. Andrew. Soon, however, they were warned off by an officer who was sent from St. Thomas to inform them that they were trespassing on the territory of the King of Denmark. They proceeded on their voyage, having obtained the services of an old buccaneer who knew the coast of Central America well. Under his pilotage they anchored on the first of November close to the Isthmus of Darien. One of the greatest princes of the country soon came on board. The courtiers who attended him, ten or twelve in number, were stark naked; but he was distinguished by a red coat, a pair of cotton drawers, and an old hat. He had a Spanish name, spoke Spanish, and affected the grave deportment of a Spanish don. The Scotch propitiated Andreas, as he was called, by a present of a new hat blazing with gold lace, and assured him that, if he would trade with them, they would treat him better than the Castilians had done.
A few hours later the chiefs of the expedition went on shore, took formal possession of the country, and named it Caledonia. They were pleased with the aspect of a small peninsula about three miles in length and a quarter of a mile in breadth, and determined to fix here the city of New Edinburgh, destined, as they hoped, to be the great emporium of both Indies. The peninsula terminated in a low promontory of about thirty acres, which might easily be turned into an island by digging a trench. The trench was dug; and on the ground thus separated from the main land a fort was constructed; fifty guns were placed on the ramparts; and within the enclosures houses were speedily built and thatched with palm leaves.
Negotiations were opened with the chieftains, as they were called, who governed the neighbouring tribes. Among these savage rulers were found as insatiable a cupidity, as watchful a jealousy, and as punctilious a pride, as among the potentates whose disputes had seemed likely to make the Congress of Ryswick eternal. One prince hated the Spaniards because a fine rifle had been taken away from him by the Governor of Portobello on the plea that such a weapon was too good for a red man. Another loved the Spaniards because they had given him a stick tipped with silver. On the whole, the new comers succeeded in making friends of the aboriginal race. One mighty monarch, the Lewis the Great of the isthmus, who wore with pride a cap of white reeds lined with red silk and adorned with an ostrich feather, seemed well inclined to the strangers, received them hospitably in a palace built of canes and covered with palmetto royal, and regaled them with calabashes of a sort of ale brewed from Indian corn and potatoes. Another chief set his mark to a treaty of peace and alliance with the colony. A third consented to become a vassal of the Company, received with great delight a commission embellished with gold thread and flowered riband, and swallowed to the health of his new masters not a few bumpers of their own brandy.
Meanwhile the internal government of the colony was organised according to a plan devised by the directors at Edinburgh. The settlers were divided into bands of fifty or sixty; each band chose a representative; and thus was formed an assembly which took the magnificent name of Parliament. This Parliament speedily framed a curious code. The first article provided that the precepts, instructions, examples, commands and prohibitions expressed and contained in the Holy Scriptures should have the full force and effect of laws in New Caledonia, an enactment which proves that those who drew it up either did not know what the Holy Scriptures contained or did not know what a law meant. There is another provision which shows not less clearly how far these legislators were from understanding the first principles of legislation. “Benefits received and good services done shall always be generously and thankfully compensated, whether a prior bargain hath been made or not; and, if it shall happen to be otherwise, and the Benefactor obliged justly to complain of the ingratitude, the Ungrateful shall in such case be obliged to give threefold satisfaction at the least.” An article much more creditable to the little Parliament, and much needed in a community which was likely to be constantly at war, prohibits, on pain of death, the violation of female captives.
By this time all the Antilles and all the shores of the Gulf of Mexico were in a ferment. The new colony was the object of universal hatred. The Spaniards began to fit out armaments. The chiefs of the French dependencies in the West Indies eagerly offered assistance to the Spaniards. The governors of the English settlements put forth proclamations interdicting all communication with this nest of buccaneers. Just at this time, the Dolphin, a vessel of fourteen guns, which was the property of the Scotch Company, was driven on shore by stress of weather under the walls of Carthagena. The ship and cargo were confiscated, the crew imprisoned and put in irons. Some of the sailors were treated as slaves, and compelled to sweep the streets and to work on the fortifications. Others, and among them the captain, were sent to Seville to be tried for piracy. Soon an envoy with a flag of truce arrived at Carthagena, and, in the name of the Council of Caledonia, demanded the release of the prisoners. He delivered to the authorities a letter threatening them with the vengeance of the King of Great Britain, and a copy of the Act of Parliament by which the Company had been created. The Castilian governor, who probably knew that William, as Sovereign of England, would not, and, as Sovereign of Scotland, could not, protect the squatters who had occupied Darien, flung away both letter and Act of Parliament with a gesture of contempt, called for a guard, and was with difficulty dissuaded from throwing the messenger into a dungeon. The Council of Caledonia, in great indignation, issued letters of mark and reprisal against Spanish vessels. What every man of common sense must have foreseen had taken place. The Scottish flag had been but a few months planted on the walls of New Edinburgh; and already a war, which Scotland, without the help of England, was utterly unable to sustain, had begun.
By this time it was known in Europe that the mysterious voyage of the adventurers from the Forth had ended at Darien. The ambassador of the Catholic King repaired to Kensington, and complained bitterly to William of this outrageous violation of the law of nations. Preparations were made in the Spanish ports for an expedition against the intruders; and in no Spanish port were there more fervent wishes for the success of that expedition than in the cities of London and Bristol. In Scotland, on the other hand, the exultation was boundless. In the parish churches all over the kingdom the ministers gave public thanks to God for having vouchsafed thus far to protect and bless the infant colony. At some places a day was set apart for religious exercises on this account. In every borough bells were rung; bonfires were lighted; and candles were placed in the windows at night. During some months all the reports which arrived from the other side of the Atlantic were such as to excite hope and joy in the north of the island, and alarm and envy in the south. The colonists, it was asserted, had found rich gold mines, mines in which the precious metal was far more abundant and in a far purer state than on the coast of Guinea. Provisions were plentiful. The rainy season had not proved unhealthy. The settlement was well fortified. Sixty guns were mounted on the ramparts. An immense crop of Indian corn was expected. The aboriginal tribes were friendly. Emigrants from various quarters were coming in. The population of Caledonia had already increased from twelve hundred to ten thousand. The riches of the country — these are the words of a newspaper of that time — were great beyond imagination. The mania in Scotland rose to the highest point. Munitions of war and implements of agriculture were provided in large quantities. Multitudes were impatient to emigrate to the land of promise.
In August 1699 four ships, with thirteen hundred men on board, were despatched by the Company to Caledonia. The spiritual care of these emigrants was entrusted to divines of the Church of Scotland. One of these was that Alexander Shields whose Hind Let Loose proves that in his zeal for the Covenant he had forgotten the Gospel. To another, John Borland, we owe the best account of the voyage which is now extant. The General Assembly had charged the chaplains to divide the colonists into congregations, to appoint ruling elders, to constitute a presbytery, and to labour for the propagation of divine truth among the Pagan inhabitants of Darien. The second expedition sailed as the first had sailed, amidst the acclamations and blessings of all Scotland. During the earlier part of September the whole nation was dreaming a delightful dream of prosperity and glory; and triumphing, somewhat maliciously, in the vexation of the English. But, before the close of that month, it began to be rumoured about Lombard Street and Cheapside that letters had arrived from Jamaica with strange news. The colony from which so much had been hoped and dreaded was no more. It had disappeared from the face of the earth. The report spread to Edinburgh, but was received there with scornful incredulity. It was an impudent lie devised by some Englishmen who could not bear to see that, in spite of the votes of the English Parliament, in spite of the proclamations of the governors of the English colonies, Caledonia was waxing great and opulent. Nay, the inventor of the fable was named. It was declared to be quite certain that Secretary Vernon was the man. On the fourth of October was put forth a vehement contradiction of the story.
On the fifth the whole truth was known. Letters were received from New York announcing that a few miserable men, the remains of the colony which was to have been the garden, the warehouse, the mart, of the whole world, their bones peeping through their skin, and hunger and fever written in their faces, had arrived in the Hudson.
The grief, the dismay and the rage of those who had a few hours before fancied themselves masters of all the wealth of both Indies may easily be imagined. The Directors, in their fury, lost all self command, and, in their official letters, railed at the betrayers of Scotland, the white-livered deserters. The truth is that those who used these hard words were far more deserving of blame than the wretches whom they had sent to destruction, and whom they now reviled for not staying to be utterly destroyed. Nothing had happened but what might easily have been foreseen. The Company had, in childish reliance on the word of an enthusiastic projector, and in defiance of facts known to every educated man in Europe, taken it for granted that emigrants born and bred within ten degrees of the Arctic Circle would enjoy excellent health within ten degrees of the Equator. Nay, statesmen and scholars had been deluded into the belief that a country which, as they might have read in books so common as those of Hakluyt and Purchas, was noted even among tropical countries for its insalubrity, and had been abandoned by the Spaniards solely on account of its insalubrity, was a Montpelier. Nor had any of Paterson’s dupes considered how colonists from Fife or Lothian, who had never in their lives known what it was to feel the heat of a distressing midsummer day, could endure the labour of breaking clods and carrying burdens under the fierce blaze of a vertical sun. It ought to have been remembered that such colonists would have to do for themselves what English, French, Dutch, and Spanish colonists employed Negroes or Indians to do for them. It was seldom indeed that a white freeman in Barbadoes or Martinique, in Guiana or at Panama, was employed in severe bodily labour. But the Scotch who settled at Darien must at first be without slaves, and must therefore dig the trench round their town, build their houses, cultivate their fields, hew wood, and draw water, with their own hands. Such toil in such an atmosphere was too much for them. The provisions which they had brought out had been of no good quality, and had not been improved by lapse of time or by change of climate. The yams and plantains did not suit stomachs accustomed to good oatmeal. The flesh of wild animals and the green fat of the turtle, a luxury then unknown in Europe, went but a small way; and supplies were not to be expected from any foreign settlement. During the cool months, however, which immediately followed the occupation of the isthmus there were few deaths. But, before the equinox, disease began to make fearful havoc in the little community. The mortality gradually rose to ten or twelve a day. Both the clergymen who had accompanied the expedition died. Paterson buried his wife in that soil which, as he had assured his too credulous countrymen, exhaled health and vigour. He was himself stretched on his pallet by an intermittent fever. Still he would not admit that the climate of his promised land was bad. There could not be a purer air. This was merely the seasoning which people who passed from one country to another must expect. In November all would be well again. But the rate at which the emigrants died was such that none of them seemed likely to live till November. Those who were not laid on their beds were yellow, lean, feeble, hardly able to move the sick and to bury the dead, and quite unable to repel the expected attack of the Spaniards. The cry of the whole community was that death was all around them, and that they must, while they still had strength to weigh an anchor or spread a sail, fly to some less fatal region. The men and provisions were equally distributed among three ships, the Caledonia, the Unicorn, and the Saint Andrew. Paterson, though still too ill to sit in the Council, begged hard that he might be left behind with twenty or thirty companions to keep up a show of possession, and to await the next arrivals from Scotland. So small a number of people, he said, might easily subsist by catching fish and turtles. But his offer was disregarded; he was carried, utterly helpless, on board of the Saint Andrew; and the vessel stood out to sea.
The voyage was horrible. Scarcely any Guinea slave ship has ever had such a middle passage. Of two hundred and fifty persons who were on board of the Saint Andrew, one hundred and fifty fed the sharks of the Atlantic before Sandy Hook was in sight. The Unicorn lost almost all its officers, and about a hundred and forty men. The Caledonia, the healthiest ship of the three, threw overboard a hundred corpses. The squalid survivors, as if they were not sufficiently miserable, raged fiercely against one another. Charges of incapacity, cruelty, brutal insolence, were hurled backward and forward. The rigid Presbyterians attributed the calamities of the colony to the wickedness of Jacobites, Prelatists, Sabbath-breakers, Atheists, who hated in others that image of God which was wanting in themselves. The accused malignants, on the other hand, complained bitterly of the impertinence of meddling fanatics and hypocrites. Paterson was cruelly reviled, and was unable to defend himself. He had been completely prostrated by bodily and mental suffering. He looked like a skeleton. His heart was broken. His inventive faculties and his plausible eloquence were no more; and he seemed to have sunk into second childhood.
Meanwhile the second expedition had been on the seas. It reached Darien about four months after the first settlers had fled. The new comers had fully expected to find a flourishing young town, secure fortifications, cultivated fields, and a cordial welcome. They found a wilderness. The castle of New Edinburgh was in ruins. The huts had been burned. The site marked out for the proud capital which was to have been the Tyre, the Venice, the Amsterdam of the eighteenth century was overgrown with jungle, and inhabited only by the sloth and the baboon. The hearts of the adventurers sank within them. For their fleet had been fitted out, not to plant a colony, but to recruit a colony already planted and supposed to be prospering. They were therefore worse provided with every necessary of life than their predecessors had been. Some feeble attempts, however, were made to restore what had perished. A new fort was constructed on the old ground; and within the ramparts was built a hamlet, consisting of eighty or ninety cabins, generally of twelve feet by ten. But the work went on languidly. The alacrity which is the effect of hope, the strength which is the effect of union, were alike wanting to the little community. From the councillors down to the humblest settlers all was despondency and discontent. The stock of provisions was scanty. The stewards embezzled great part of it. The rations were small; and soon there was a cry that they were unfairly distributed. Factions were formed. Plots were laid. One ringleader of the malecontents was hanged. The Scotch were generally, as they still are, a religious people; and it might therefore have been expected that the influence of the divines to whom the spiritual charge of the colony had been confided would have been employed with advantage for the preserving of order and the calming of evil passions. Unfortunately those divines seem to have been at war with almost all the rest of the society. They described their companions as the most profligate of mankind, and declared that it was impossible to constitute a presbytery according to the directions of the General Assembly; for that persons fit to be ruling elders of a Christian Church were not to be found among the twelve or thirteen hundred emigrants. Where the blame lay it is now impossible to decide. All that can with confidence be said is that either the clergymen must have been most unreasonably and most uncharitably austere, or the laymen must have been most unfavourable specimens of the nation and class to which they belonged.
It may be added that the provision by the General Assembly for the spiritual wants of the colony was as defective as the provision made for temporal wants by the directors of the Company. Nearly one third of the emigrants who sailed with the second expedition were Highlanders, who did not understand a word of English; and not one of the four chaplains could speak a word of Gaelic. It was only through interpreters that a pastor could communicate with a large portion of the Christian flock of which he had charge. Even by the help of interpreters he could not impart religious instruction to those heathen tribes which the Church of Scotland had solemnly recommended to his care. In fact, the colonists left behind them no mark that baptized men had set foot on Darien, except a few Anglo–Saxon curses, which, having been uttered more frequently and with greater energy than any other words in our language, had caught the ear and been retained in the memory of the native population of the isthmus.
The months which immediately followed the arrival of the new comers were the coolest and most salubrious of the year. But, even in those months, the pestilential influence of a tropical sun, shining on swamps rank with impenetrable thickets of black mangroves, began to be felt. The mortality was great; and it was but too clear that, before the summer was far advanced, the second colony would, like the first, have to choose between death and flight. But the agony of the inevitable dissolution was shortened by violence. A fleet of eleven vessels under the flag of Castile anchored off New Edinburgh. At the same time an irregular army of Spaniards, Creoles, negroes, mulattoes and Indians marched across the isthmus from Panama; and the fort was blockaded at once by sea and land.
A drummer soon came with a message from the besiegers, but a message which was utterly unintelligible to the besieged. Even after all that we have seen of the perverse imbecility of the directors of the Company, it must be thought strange that they should have sent a colony to a remote part of the world, where it was certain that there must be constant intercourse, peaceable or hostile, with Spaniards, and yet should not have taken care that there should be in the whole colony a single person who knew a little Spanish.
With some difficulty a negotiation was carried on in such French and such Latin as the two parties could furnish. Before the end of March a treaty was signed by which the Scotch bound themselves to evacuate Darien in fourteen days; and on the eleventh of April they departed, a much less numerous body than when they arrived. In little more than four months, although the healthiest months of the year, three hundred men out of thirteen hundred had been swept away by disease. Of the survivors very few lived to see their native country again. Two of the ships perished at sea. Many of the adventurers, who had left their homes flushed with hopes of speedy opulence, were glad to hire themselves out to the planters of Jamaica, and laid their bones in that land of exile. Shields died there, worn out and heart broken. Borland was the only minister who came back. In his curious and interesting narrative, he expresses his feelings, after the fashion of the school in which he had been bred, by grotesque allusions to the Old Testament, and by a profusion of Hebrew words. On his first arrival, he tells us, he found New Edinburgh a Ziklag. He had subsequently been compelled to dwell in the tents of Kedar. Once, indeed, during his sojourn, he had fallen in with a Beer-lahai-roi, and had set up his Ebenezer; but in general Darien was to him a Magor Missabib, a Kibroth-hattaavah. The sad story is introduced with the words in which a great man of old, delivered over to the malice of the Evil Power, was informed of the death of his children and of the ruin of his fortunes: “I alone am escaped to tell thee.”
1 I will quote from the despatches of Lewis to Tallard three or four passages which show that the value of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies was quite justly appreciated at Versailles. “A l’egard du royaume de Naples et de Sicile le roi d’Angleterre objectera que les places de ces etats entre mes mains me rendront maitre du commerce de la Mediteranee. Vous pourrez en ce cas laissez entendre, comme de vous meme, qu’il serait si difficile de conserver ces royaumes unis a ma couronne, que les depenses necessaires pour y envoyer des secours seraient si grands, et qu’autrefois il a tant coute a la France pour les maintenir dans son obeissance, que vraisemblablement j’etablirois un roi pour les gouverner, et que peut-etre ce serait le partage d’un de mes petits-fils qui voudroit regner independamment.” April 7/17 1698. “Les royaumes de Naples et de Sicile ne peuvent se regarder comme un partage dont mon fils puisse se contenter pour lui tenir lieu de tous ses droits. Les exemples du passe n’ont que trop appris combien ces etats content a la France le peu d’utilite dont ils sont pour elle, et la difficulte de les conserver.” May 16. 1698. “Je considere la cession de ces royaumes comme une source continuelle de depenses et d’embarras. Il n’en a que trop coute a la France pour les conserver; et l’experience a fait voir la necessite indispensable d’y entretenir toujours des troupes, et d’y envoyer incessamment des vaisseaux, et combien toutes ces peines ont ete inutiles.” May 29. 1698. It would be easy to cite other passages of the same kind. But these are sufficient to vindicate what I have said in the text.]
2 Dec. 20/30 1698.]
3 Commons’ Journals, February 24. 27.; March 9. 1698/9 In the Vernon Correspondence a letter about the East India question which belongs to the year 1699/1700 is put under the date of Feb. 10 1698. The truth is that this most valuable correspondence cannot be used to good purpose by any writer who does not do for himself all that the editor ought to have done.]
4 I doubt whether there be extant a sentence of worse English than that on which the House divided. It is not merely inelegant and ungrammatical but is evidently the work of a man of puzzled understanding, probably of Harley. “It is Sir, to your loyal Commons an unspeakable grief, that any thing should be asked by Your Majesty’s message to which they cannot consent, without doing violence to that constitution Your Majesty came over to restore and preserve; and did, at that time, in your gracious declaration promise, that all those foreign forces which came over with you should be sent back.”]
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