IN order to give you a distinct idea of the situation in which Great Britain was placed at this eventful period, I shall first sketch the character of three or four of the principal persons of Scotland whose influence had most effect in producing the course of events which followed. I shall then explain the course pursued by the Scottish representatives in the national Parliament; and these preliminaries being discussed, I shall, thirdly, endeavour to trace the general measures of Britain respecting her foreign relations, and to explain the effect which these produced upon the public tranquillity of the United Kingdom. The Duke of Hamilton you are already somewhat acquainted with, as a distinguished character during the last Parliament of Scotland, when he headed the opposition to the treaty of Union; and also during the plot for invading Scotland and restoring the Stewart family, when he seems to have been regarded as the leader of the Lowland Jacobites, those of the Highlands rather inclining to the Duke of Athole. He was the peer of the highest rank in Scotland, and nearly connected with the royal family; which made some accuse him of looking towards the crown, a folly of which his acknowledged good sense might be allowed to acquit him. He was handsome in person, courtly and amiable in manners, generally popular with all classes, and the natural head of the gentry of Lanarkshire, many of whom are descended from his family. Through the influence of his mother, the Duchess, he had always preserved a strong interest among the Hillmen, or Cameronians, who had since the Revolution shown themselves in arms more than once; and, in case of a civil war or invasion, must have been of material avail. With all these advantages of birth, character, and influence, the Duke of Hamilton had a defect which prevented his attaining eminence as a political leader. He possessed personal valour, as he showed in his last and tragic scene, but he was destitute of political courage and decision. Dangers which he had braved at a distance, appalled him when they approached near; he was apt to disappoint his friends, as the horse who baulks the leap to which he has come gallantly up, endangers, or perhaps altogether unseats his rider. Even with This defect, Hamilton was beloved and esteemed by Lockhart, and other leaders of the Tory party, who appear rather to have regretted his unsteadiness as a weakness, than condemned it as a fault.
The next Scottish nobleman, whose talents made him preeminent on the scene during this eventful period, was John, Duke of Argyle, a person whose greatness did not consist in the accidents of rank, influence, and fortune, though possessed of all these in the highest order which his country permitted, since his talents were such as must have forced him into distinction and eminence, in what humble state soever he might have been born. This great man was heir of the ancient house of Argyle, which makes so distinguished a figure in Scottish history, and whose name occurs so often in the former volumes of these tales. The Duke of whom we now speak was the great-grandson of the Marquis of Argyle who was beheaded after the Restoration, and grandson of the earl who suffered the same fate under James IT. The family had been reduced to very narrow circumstances, by those repeated acts of persecution.
The house of Argyle was indemnified at the Revolution, when the father of Duke John was restored to his paternal property, and in compensation for the injuries and injustice sustained by his father and grandfather, was raised to the rank of Duke. A remarkable circumstance which befell Duke John in his infancy, would, by the pagans, have been supposed to augur, that he was under the special care of Providence, and reserved for some great purposes. About the time (tradition says on the very day, 30th June, 1685) that his grandfather, the Earl Archibald, was about to be executed, the heir of the family, then about seven years old, fell from a window of the ancient tower of Lethington, near Haddington, the residence at that time of his grandmother, the Duchess of Lauderdale. The height is so great, that the child escaping unhurt, might be accounted a kind of miracle.
Having entered early on a military life, to which his family had been long partial, he distinguished himself at the siege of Keyserswart, under the eye of King William. Showing a rare capacity for business, he was appointed Lord High Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament in 1705, on which occasion he managed so well, as to set on foot the treaty of Union, by carrying through the Act for the appointment of Commissioners, to adjust that great national measure. The Duke, therefore, laid the first stone of an edifice, which, though carried on upon an erroneous and narrow system, was nevertheless, ultimately calculated to be, and did in fact prove, the basis of universal prosperity to the United Kingdoms. In the last Scottish Parliament, his powerful eloquence was a principal means of supporting that great treaty. Argyle’s name does not appear in any list of the sharers of the equivalent money: and his countrymen, amid the unpopularity which attached to the measure, distinguished him as having favoured it from real principle. Indeed, it is an honourable part of this great man’s character, that, though bent on the restoration of the fortunes of his family, sorely abridged by the mischances of his grandfather and great-grandfather, and by the extravagances of his father, he had too much sense and too much honour ever to stoop to any indirect mode of gaining personal advantage, and was able, in a venal age, to set all imputations of corruption at defiance; whereas the statesman who is once detected bartering his opinions for lucre, is like a woman who has lost her reputation, and can never afterwards regain the public trust and good opinion which he has forfeited. Argyle was rewarded, however, by being created an English Peer, by the title of Earl of Greenwich, and Baron Chatham. Argyle, after the Union was carried, returned to the army, and served under Marlborough with distinguished reputation, of which it was thought that great general even condescended to be jealous. At least it is certain that there was no cordiality between them, it being understood that when there was a rumour that the Whig administration of Godolphin would make a push to have the Duke created general for life, in spite of the Queen’s pleasure to the contrary, Argyle offered, if such an attempt should be made, to make Marlborough prisoner even in the midst of the victorious army which he commanded. At this time, therefore, he was a steady and zealous friend of Harley and Bolingbroke, who were then beginning their Tory administration. To recompense his valuable support, he was named by the Tory Ministry commander-inchief in Spain, and assured of all the supplies in troops and money which might enable him to carry on the war with success in that kingdom, where the Tories had all along insisted it should be maintained. With this pledge, Argyle accepted the appointment, in the ambitious hope of acquiring that military renown which he principally coveted.
But the Duke’s mortification was extreme in finding, on his arrival in Spain, the British army in a state too wretched to undertake any enterprise of moment, and indeed unfit even to defend its positions. The British Ministers broke the word they had pledged for his support, and sent him neither money, supplies, nor reinforcements; so that instead of rivalling Marlborough, as had been his ambition, in conquering territories and gaining battles, Argyle saw himself reduced to the melancholy necessity of retiring to Minorca to save the wreck of the army. The reason given by the Ministers for this breach of faith was, that having determined on that accommodation with France which was afterwards termed the peace of Utrecht, they did not desire to prosecute the war with vigour either in Spain or any other quarter. Argyle fell sick with mortified pride and resentment. He struggled for life in a violent fever, and returned to Britain with vindictive intentions towards the Ministers, who had, he thought, disappointed him, by their breach of promise, of an ample harvest of glory.
On his return to England, the Ministers, Harley, now Earl of Oxford, and the Lord Bolingbroke, endeavoured to soothe the Duke’s resentment by appointing him commander-inchief in Scotland, and governor of the castle of Edinburgh; but notwithstanding, he remained a bitter and dangerous opponent of their Administration, formidable by his high talents, both civil and military, his ready eloquence, and the fearless energy with which he spoke and acted. Such was the distinguished John Duke of Argyle, whom we shall often have to mention in these pages.
John, eleventh Earl of Mar, of the name of Erskine, was also a remarkable person at this period. He was a man of quick parts and prompt eloquence, an adept in state intrigues, and a successful courtier. His paternal estate had been greatly embarrassed by the mismanagement of his father, but in a great measure redeemed by his own prudent economy. He obtained the command of a regiment of foot, but though we are about to see him at the head of an army, it does not appear that Mar had given his mind to military affairs, or acquired experience by going on actual service. His father had been a Whig,; and professed Revolution principles, and the present Earl entered life bearing the same colours. He brought forward in the Parliament of Scotland the proposal for the treaty of Union, and was one of the Scottish commissioners for settling the preliminary articles. Being secretary of state for Scotland during the last Scottish Parliament, he supported the treaty both with eloquence and address. Mar does not appear amongst those who received any portion of the equivalents; but as he lost his secretaryship by the Union, he was created keeper of the signet, with a pension, and was admitted into the English Privy Council. Upon the celebrated change of the Administration in 1710, the Earl of Mar, then one of the fifteen peers who represented the nobility of Scotland, passed over to the new Ministers, and was created one of the British secretaries of state. In this capacity he was much employed in the affairs of Scotland, and in managing such matters as they had to do in the Highlands. His large estate upon the river Dee in Aberdeenshire, called the forest of Braemar, placed him at the head of a considerable Highland following of his own, which rendered it more easy for him, as dispenser of the bounties of Government, to establish an interest among the chiefs, which ultimately had fatal consequences to them and to himself.
Such were the three principal Scottish nobles on whom the affairs of Scotland, at that uncertain period, very much depended. We are next to give some account of the manner in which the forty-five members, whom the Union had settled to be the proportion indulged to Scotland as her share of the Legislature, were received in the English senate.
And here it must be noticed, that although individually the Scottish members were cordially received in London, and in society saw or felt no prejudice whatever existing against them on account of their birth-place, and though there was no dislike exhibited against them individually, yet they were soon made sensible that their presence in the senate was as unacceptable to the English members, as the arrival of a body of strange rams in a pasture, where a nock of the same animals have been feeding for some time. The contentions between those who are in possession and the new comers, are in that case carried to a great height, and occasion much noise and many encounters; and for a long time the smaller band of strangers are observed to herd together, and to avoid intermingling with the original possessors, nor, if they attempt to do so, are they cordially received.
This same species of discord was visible between the great body of the English House of Commons and the handful of Scottish members introduced among them by the Union. It was so much the case, that the national prejudices of English and Scots pitted against each other, even interfered with and overcame the political differences, by which the conduct and votes of the representatives of both nations would have been otherwise regulated. The Scottish members, fur example, found themselves neglected, thwarted, and overborne by numbers, on many occasions where they conceived the immediate interests of their country were concerned, and where they thought that, in courtesy and common fairness, they, as the peculiar representatives of Scotland, ought to have been allowed something more than their small proportion of five-and-forty votes. The opinion even of a single member of Parliament is listened to with some deference, when the matter discussed intimately concerns the shire or burgh which he represents, because he obtains credit for having made himself more master of the case than others who are less interested. And it was surely natural for the Scots to claim similar deference when speaking in behalf of a whole kingdom, whose wants and whose advantages could be known to none in the House so thoroughly as to themselves. But they were far from experiencing the courtesy which they expected. It was expressly refused to them in the following instances.
1. The alteration of the law of high treason, already mentioned, was a subject of discord. The Scottish members were sufficiently desirous that their law, in this particular, should be modelled anew, by selecting the best parts of the system of both countries, and this would certainly have been the most equitable course. But the English law, in this particular, was imposed on Scotland with little exception or modification. 2. Another struggle for national advantage occurred respecting the drawbacks of duty allowed upon fish cured in Scotland. This advantage the Scottish merchants had a right to by the letter of the treaty, which expressly declared, that there should be a free communication of trade and commercial privileges between the kingdoms, so that the Scottish as well as the English merchant was entitled to these drawbacks. To this the English answered, that the salt with which the Scottish fish were cured before the Union, had not paid the high English duty, and that to grant drawbacks upon goods so prepared, would he to return to the Scottish trader sums which he had never advanced. There was some reason, no doubt, in the objection; but in so great a transaction as the Union of two kingdoms, there must have occurred circumstances which, for one cause or another, must necessarily create an advantage to individuals of the one country or the other; and it seemed ungracious in the wealthy kingdom of England to grudge to the poorer people of Scotland so trifling a benefit attendant on so important a measure. The English Parliament did accordingly at last agree to this drawback; but the action lost its grace from the obvious un willingness with which the advantage was conceded, and, as frequently happens, the giving up the point in question did not consign to oblivion the acrimony of the discussions which it had occasioned. The debates on the several questions we have just noticed, all occurred in the sessions of the British Parliament during which the Union was completed. In 1710, Queen Anne, becoming weary of her Whig ministers, as I will tell you more at length, took an opportunity to dismiss them, upon finding the voice of the country unfavourable to them, in the foolish affair of Sacheverel; and, as is the usual course in such cases, she dissolved the Parliament in which the Administration had a majority, and assembled a new one.
The Tory Ministry, like all Ministers entering on office, endeavoured, by civility or promises, to gain the support of every description of men; and the Scottish members, who, after all, made up forty-five votes, were not altogether neglected. The new Ministry boasted to the representatives of North Britain, that the present Parliament consisted chiefly of independent country gentlemen, who would do impartial justice to all parts of Britain, and that Scotland should have nothing to complain of.
An opportunity speedily occurred of proving the sincerity of these promises. It must first be remarked, that the opposition made to the measures of Government had hitherto been almost entirely on the side of the Scottish members in the Lower House, who had pursued the policy of threatening to leave the Administration in a minority in trying questions, by passing in a body to the Opposition; a line of political tactics which will always give to a small but united band a certain weight in the House of Commons, where nicely balanced questions frequently occur, and forty-five votes may turn the scale one way or other. By this policy the Scottish commoners had sometimes produced a favourable issue on points in which their country was concerned. But such was not the practice of the representatives of the peerage, who, having some of them high rank, with but small fortunes to sustain it, were for a time tolerably tractable, voting regularly along with the Ministers in power. A question, however, arose of which we shall speak presently, concerning the privileges of their own order, which disturbed this interested and self-seeking course of policy.
Another reason for the lukewarmness of the Scottish peers was, that the commoners of Scotland had been active on two occasions, in which they had interposed barriers against the exorbitant power of the aristocracy. The first was, an enactment passed rendering the eldest sons of Scottish peers incapable of sitting as members in the House of Commons. This incapacity was imposed, because, being of the same rank or status as the nobility, it was considered that the eldest sons of the nobles were, like their fathers, virtually represented by the sixteen Scottish peers sent to the Upper House. The second regulation displeasing to the peerage was that which rendered illegal the votes of such electors in Scotland, as, not being possessed in their own right of the qualification necessary by law, had obtained a temporary conveyance of a freehold qualification of the necessary amount, which they bound themselves to restore to the person by whom it was lent, for the purpose of voting at elections. The effect of this law was to destroy an indirect mode by which the peers had attempted to interfere in the election of the commoners. For before this provision, although a peer could not himself appear or vote for the election of a commoner, he might, by cutting his crown-holding into qualifications of the necessary amount, and distributing them among confidential persons, place so many factitious voters on the roll, as might outvote those real proprietors in whom the constitution vested the right of election. These two laws show that the Scottish members of the House of Commons were alive to the value of their constitutional rights, and the danger to their freedom from the interference of the peers in elections to the Lower House. These differences occasioned some coldness between the Sixteen Peers and the Scottish Members of Parliament, and prevented for a time a cooperation between them in cases where the interests of their common country seemed to require it. The following incident, to which I have already alluded, put an end to this coldness.
Queen Anne, in the course other administration, had begun to withdraw her favours from the Whigs and confer them upon the Tories, even upon such as were supposed to have embraced the Jacobite interest. Among these, the Duke of Hamilton being conspicuous, he was, in addition to his other tides, created a peer of Great Britain, by the title of the Duke of Brandon. A similar exertion of the Queen’s prerogative had already been made in the case of the Duke of Queensberry, who had been called to the British peerage, by the title of Duke of Dover. But notwithstanding this precedent, there was violent opposition to the Duke of Hamilton taking his seat as a British peer. It was said no Scottish noble could sit in that House by any other title than as one of the sixteen Peers, to which number the peerage of that kingdom had been restricted as an adequate representation; and the Opposition pretended to see great danger in opening any other way to their getting into the Upper House, even through the grant of the Sovereign, than the election of their own number. The fallacy of this reasoning is obvious, seeing it was allowed on all hands that the Queen could have made any Scotsman a British peer, providing he was not a peer in his own country. Thus the Scottish peerage were likely to be placed in a very awkward situation. They were peers already, as far as the question of all personal privileges went; but because they were such, it was argued that they were not capable of holding the additional privilege of sitting as legislators, which it was admitted the Queen could confer, with all other immunities, upon any Scottish commoner. Their case was that of the bat in the fable, who was rejected both by birds and mice, because she had some alliance with each of them. A Scottish peer, not being one of the elected sixteen, could not be a legislator in his own country, for the Scottish Parliament was abolished; and according to this doctrine, he had become, for no reason that can be conjectured, incapable of being called to the British House of Peers, to which the King could summon by his will any one save himself and his copeers of Scotland. Nevertheless, the House of Peers, after a long debate, and by a narrow majority, decided, that no Scottish peer being created a peer of Great Britain since the Union, had a right to sit in that house. The Scottish peers, highly offended at the decision, drew up a remonstrance to the Queen, in which they complained of it as an infringement of the Union, and a mark of disgrace put upon the whole peerage of Scotland. The resolution of the House of Peers was afterwards altered, and many of the Scottish nobility have, at various periods, been created peers of Great Britain.
But during the time while it remained binding, it produced a considerable change in the temper of the Scottish peers, and brought them to form a closer union among themselves and with the commons. Influenced by these feelings of resentment, and by the energy of the Duke of Argyle, they bestirred themselves to resist the extension of the malt tax to Scotland.
This tax, which the Scots dreaded peculiarly, because it imposed upon their malt a duty equal to that levied in England, had been specially canvassed in the course of the treaty of Union; and it had finally been agreed that Scotland should not pay the tax during the continuance of the war. In point of strict right, the Scots had little to say, excepting that the peace with Spain was not yet proclaimed, which might have enabled them to claim a delay, but not an exemption from the imposition. In point of equity, there was more to be pleaded. The barley grown in Scotland, being raised on an inferior soil, is not, at least was not at the time of the Union, worth more than one-third or one-half of the intrinsic value of that raised on the fertile soil, and under the fine climate, of England. If, therefore, the same duty was to be laid on the same quantity as in South Britain, the poorer country would be taxed in a double or triple proportion to that which was better able to bear the burden. Two Scottish peers, the Duke of Argyle, and the Earl of Mar, and two commoners, Cockburn, younger of Ormiston, and Lockhart of Carnwath, a Whig and Tory of each house, were deputed to wait upon Queen Anne, and represent particularly, besides some other grievances, the dangerous discontents which the imposition of a tax so unequal as that upon malt was likely to occasion in so poor a country as Scotland. This was stated to her majesty personally, who returned the answer ministers had put into her mouth-” She was sorry,” she said, “ that her people of Scotland thought they had reason to complain; but she thought they drove their resentment too far, and wished they did not repent it.” The war, however, being ended by the peace of Utrecht, the English proposed to extend the obnoxious tax to Scotland. The debates in both Houses became very animated. The English testified some contempt for the poverty of Scotland, while the Scottish members, on the other hand, retorted fiercely, that the English took advantage of their great majority of numbers and privilege of place, to say more than, man to man, they would dare to answer. The Scottish peers in the Upper House maintained the cause of the country with equal vehemence. But the issue was, the duty was imposed, with a secret assurance on the part of Ministers that it was not to be exacted. This last indulgence was what Scotland, strictly speaking, was not entitled to look for, since her own Estates had previously conceded the question; and they had no right to expect from the British Parliament a boon, which their own, while making the bargain, had neglected to stipulate. But they felt they had been treated with haughtiness and want of courtesy in the course of the debate; and so great was their resentment, that in a general meeting of the forty-five Scottish members, they came to the resolution to move for the dissolution of the Union, as an experiment which had failed in the good effects it was expected to produce-which resolution was also adopted by the Scottish peers. It was supported by Scottish members of all parties, Whigs and Revolutionists, as well as Tories and Jacobites; and as all the English Whigs who, being in office, were so eager for the establishment of the Union, were now, when in opposition, as eager for its dissolution, its defence rested with the English Tories, by whom it had been originally opposed at every stage of its progress. This important treaty, which involved so much of national happiness, stood in danger of sharing the fate of a young fruit-tree, cut down by an ignorant gardener, because it bears no fruit in the season after it has been planted. The motion for the dissolution of the Union was brought forward in the House of Lords by Lord Findlater and Seafield (1st June, 1713)— that very Lord Findlater and Seafield, who, being Chancellor of the Scottish Parliament by which the treaty was adjusted. signed the last adjournment of his country’s representatives with the jeering observation, that “ there was an end of an old song” His lordship, with a considerable degree of embarrassment, arising from the recollection of his own inconsistency, had the assurance to move that this “old song” should be resumed, and the Union abolished, on account of the four following alleged grievances:— 1. The abolition of the Privy Council of Scotland; 2. The introduction of the English law of High Treason; 3. The incapacity of Scottish peers to be called to Parliament as peers of Britain; 4. The imposition of the malt tax. None of these reasons of complaint vindicated Lord Findlater’s proposition. 1. The abolition of the Privy Council was a boon rather than a grievance to Scotland, which that oppressive body had ruled with a rod of iron. 2. The English treason law was probably more severe in some particulars than that of Scotland, but it had the undeniable advantage of superior certainty and precision. 3. The incapacity of the Scottish peers was indeed an encroachment upon their privileges, but it was capable of being reversed, and has been reversed accordingly, without the necessity of destroying the Union. 4. If the malt tax was a grievance, it was one which the Scottish commissioners, and his lordship amongst others, had under their view during the progress of the treaty, and to which they had formally subjected their country, and were not, therefore, entitled to complain, as if something new or unexpected had happened, when the English availed themselves of a stipulation to which they themselves had consented.
The Duke of Argyle supported the motion for abrogating the Union, with far more energy than had been displayed by Lord Findlater. He declared, that when he advocated the treaty of Union, it was for the sole reason that he saw no other mode of securing the Protestant succession to the throne; he had changed his mind on that subject, and thought other remedies as capable of securing that great point. On the insults and injuries which had been unsparingly flung upon Scotland and Scotsmen, he spoke like a high-minded and high-spirited man; and to those who had hinted reproaches against him, as having deserted his party, he replied, that he scorned the imputations they threw out, as much as he despised their understanding. This bold orator came nearest to speaking out the real cause of the universal discontent of the Scottish members, which was less the pressure of any actual grievance, than the sense of the habitually insulting and injurious manner in which they were treated by the English members, as if the representatives of some inferior and subjugated province. But personal resentment, or offended national pride, however powerful, ought not to have been admitted as reasons for altering a national enactment, which had been deliberately and seriously entered into; for the welfare of posterity is not to be sacrificed to the vindictive feelings of the present generation.
The debate on Lord Findlater’s motion was very animated, and it was wonderful to see the energy with which the Tories defended that Union which they had opposed in every stage, while the Whigs, equally inconsistent, attempted to pull down the fabric which their own hands had been so active in rearing. The former, indeed, could plead, that, though they had not desired to have a treaty of Union, yet, such having been once made, and the ancient constitutions of both countries altered and accommodated to it, there was no inconsistency in their being more willing it should remain, than that the principles of the constitution should be rendered the subject of such frequent changes and tamperings. The inconsistency of the Whigs hardly admits of equal apology.
The division upon the question was so close, that it was rejected by a majority of four only; so nearly had that important treaty received its death-blow within six years after it was entered into. Shortly after this hairbreadth escape, fur such we may surely term it, another circumstance occurred, tending strongly to show with what sensitive jealousy the Scots of that day regarded any reflections on their country. The two great parties of Whig and Tory, the former forming the Opposition, and the latter the Ministerial party, besides their regular war in the House of Commons, had maintained a skirmishing warfare of pamphlets and lampoons, many of them written by persons of distinguished talent. Of these, the celebrated Sir Richard Steele wrote a tract, called the Crisis, which was widely circulated by the Whigs. The still more able Jonathan Swift, the intimate friend and advocate of the existing ministers, published (but anonymously) a reply, entitled “ The Public Spirit of the Whigs set forth, in their encouragement of the author of the Crisis.“1 It was a sarcastic, political lampoon against the Whigs and their champion, interspersed with bitter reflections upon the Duke of Argyle and his country.
In this composition, the author gives rein to his prejudices against the Scottish nation. He grudged that Scotland should have been admitted into commercial privileges, by means of this Union, from which Ireland was excluded. The natural mode of redressing this inequality, was certainly to put all the three nations on a similar footing. But as nothing of this kind seemed at that time practicable, Swift accused the Scots of affectation, in pretending to quarrel with the terms of a treaty which was so much in their favour, and supposes, that while carrying on a debate, under pretence of abrogating the Union, they were all the while in agony lest they should prove successful. Acute observer of men and motives as he was, Swift was in this instance mistaken. Less sharp-sighted than this celebrated author, and blinded by their own exasperated pride, the Scots were desirous of wreaking their revenge at the expense of a treaty which contained so many latent advantages, in the same manner as an intoxicated man vents his rage at the expense of valuable furniture or important papers. In the pamphlet which gave so much offence, Swift denounced the Union “ as a project for which there could not possibly be assigned the least reason;” and he defied “ any mortal to name one single advantage that England could ever expect from such a Union.”
The necessity, he justly, but offensively, imputes to the Scots refusing to settle the Crown on the line of Hanover, when, according to the satirist, it was thought “ highly dangerous to leave that part of the island, inhabited by a poor fierce, northern people, at liberty to put themselves under a different king.” He censures Godolphin highly for suffering the Act of Security to pass, by which the Scots assumed the privilege of universally arming themselves. “ The Union, he allows, became necessary, because it might have cost England a year or two of war to reduce the Scots.” In This admission, Swift pronounces the highest panegyric on the treaty, since the one or two years of hostilities might have only been the recommencement of that war, which had blazed inextinguishably for more than a thousand years.
The Duke of Argyle had been a friend, even a patron, of the satirist, but that was when he acted with Oxford and Bolingbroke, in the earlier part of the administration, at which time he gratified at once their party spirit and his own animosity, by attacking the Duke of Marlborough, and declining to join in the vote of thanks to that great general. While Argyle was in Spain, Swift had addressed a letter to him in that delicate style of flattery, of which he was as great a master as of every power of satirical sarcasm. But when the Duke returned to Britain, embittered against Ministers by their breach of promise to supply him with money and reinforcements, and declared himself the unrelenting opponent of them, their party, and their measures, Swift, their intimate confident and partisan, espoused their new quarrel, and exchanged the panegyrics of which the Duke had been the object for poignant satire. Of the number of the Scottish nobility, he talks as one of the great evils of the Union, and asks if it were ever reckoned as an advantage to a man who was about to marry a woman much his inferior, and without a groat to her fortune, that she brought in her train a numerous retinue of retainers and dependents. He is supposed to have aimed particularly at the Duke of Argyle, and his brother, Lord Islay, in these words:—” I could point out some with great titles, who affected to appear very vigorous for dissolving the Union, although their whole revenue, before that period, would have ill maintained a Welsh justice of peace, and have since gathered more money than ever any Scotsman who had not travelled could form an idea of.” These shafts of satire against a body of men so sensitive and vindictive as the Scots had lately shown themselves, and directed also against a person of the Duke of Argyle’s talents and consequence, were not likely, as the Ministers well knew, to be passed over lightly, either by those who felt aggrieved, or the numerous opposition party, who were sure to avail themselves of such an opportunity for pressing home a charge against Swift, whom all men believed to be the author of the tract, and under whose shafts they had suffered both as a party and as individuals. The Ministry therefore formed a plan to elude an attack, which might have been attended with evil consequences to so valued and valuable a partisan. They were in the right to have premeditated a scheme of defence, or rather of evasion, for the accusation was taken up in the House of Lords by the Earl of Wharton, a nobleman of high talent, and not less eager in the task, that the satirist had published a character of the Earl himself, drawn when Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, in which he was painted in the most detestable colours. Wharton made a motion, concluding that the honour of the House was concerned in discovering the villanous author of so false and scandalous a libel, that justice might be done to the Scottish nation. The Lord Treasurer Oxford disclaimed all knowledge of the author, and readily concurred in an order for taking into custody the publisher and printer of the pamphlet complained of. On the next day, the Earl of Mar informed the House, that he, as Secretary of State, had raised a prosecution in his Majesty’s name against John Barber. This course was intended, and had the effect, to screen Swift; for, when the printer was himself made the object of a prosecution, he could not be used as an evidence against the author, whom, and not the printer or publisher, it was the purpose of the Whigs to prosecute. Enraged at being deprived of their prey, the House of Peers addressed the Queen, stating the atrocity of the libel, and beseeching her Majesty to issue a proclamation offering a reward for the discovery of the author. The Duke of Argyle and the Scottish Lords, who would have perhaps acted with a truer sense of dignity, had they passed over such calumnies with contempt, pressed their address on the Queen by personal remonstrance, and a reward of three hundred pounds was offered for the discovery of the writer. Every one knew Swift to be the person aimed at as the author of the offensive tract. But he remained, nevertheless, safe from legal detection. Thus I have given you an account of some, though not of the whole debates, which the Union was, in its operation, the means of exciting in the first British Parliament. The narrative affords a melancholy proof of the errors into which the wisest and best statesmen are hurried, when, instead of considering important public measures calmly and dispassionately, they regard them in the erroneous light in which they are presented by personal feeling and party prejudices. Men do not in the latter case ask, whether the public will be benefited or injured by the enactment under consideration, but whether their own party will reap most advantage by defending or opposing it.
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