Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 3

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St James's, June 10th, 1782.

Dear Grenville,

I received late the night before last your very interesting letter of the 4th, and you will easily conceive am not a little embarra.s.sed by its contents. In the first place, it was not possible to comply with your injunction of perfect secrecy in a case where steps of such importance are necessary to be taken; and therefore I have taken upon me (for which I must trust to your friends.h.i.+p to excuse me) to show your letter to Lord Rockingham, the Duke of Richmond and Lord John, who are all as full of indignation at its contents as one might reasonably expect honest men to be. We are perfectly resolved to come to an explanation upon the business, if it is possible so to do, without betraying any confidence reposed in me by you, or in you by others.

The two points which occur are the paper relative to Canada, of which I had never heard till I received your letter, and the intended investment of Mr. Oswald with full powers, which was certainly meant for the purpose of diverting Franklin's confidence from you into another channel. With these two points we wish to charge Shelburne directly; but pressing as the King is, and interesting as it is both to our own situations and to the affairs of the public--which are, I fear, irretrievably injured by this intrigue, and which must be ruined if it is suffered to go on--we are resolved not to stir a step till we hear again from you, and know precisely how far we are at liberty to make use of what you have discovered. If this matter should produce a rupture, and consequently become more or less the subject of public discussion, I am sensible the Canada paper cannot be mentioned by name; but might it not be said that we had discovered that Shelburne had withheld from our knowledge matters of importance to the negotiation? And with respect to the other point, might it not be said, without betraying anybody, that while the King had one avowed and authorized Minister at Paris, measures were taken for lessening his credit and for obstructing his inquiries by announcing a new intended commission, of which the Cabinet here had never been apprized.

Do, pray, my dear Grenville, consider the incredible importance of this business in every view, and write me word precisely how far you can authorize us to make use of your intelligence. It is more than possible that, before this reaches you, many other circ.u.mstances may have occurred which may afford further proofs of this duplicity of conduct; and if they have, I am sure they will not have escaped your observation. If this should be the case, you will see the necessity of acquainting me with them as soon as possible. You see what is our object, and you can easily judge what sort of evidence will be most useful to us. When the object is attained--that is, when the duplicity is proved--to what consequences we ought to drive; whether to an absolute rupture, or merely to the recal of Oswald and the simplification of this negotiation, is a point that may be afterwards considered. I own I incline to the more decisive measure, and so I think do those with whom I must act in concert.

I am very happy indeed that you did not come yourself: the mischief that would have happened from it to our affairs are incredible; and I must beg of you, nay, entreat and conjure you, not to think of taking any precipitate step of this nature. As to the idea of replacing you with Lord Fitzwilliam, not only it would be very objectionable on account of the mistaken notion it would convey of things being much riper than they are, but it would, as I conceive, be no remedy to the evil. Whether the King's Minister at Paris be an Amba.s.sador Extraordinary or a Minister Plenipotentiary, can make no difference as to the question. The clandestine manner of carrying on a separate negotiation, which we complain of, would be equally practicable and equally blameable if Lord Fitzwilliam was Amba.s.sador, as it is now that Mr. Grenville is Plenipotentiary. I must therefore again entreat you, as a matter of personal kindness to me, to remain a little longer at Paris; if you were to leave it, all sorts of suspicions would be raised. It is of infinite consequence that we should have it to say that we have done all in our power to make peace, not only with regard to what may be expected from America, but from Europe.

The King of Prussia is certainly inclined to be our friend; but he urges and presses to make peace if possible. If we could once bring the treaty to such a point as that, stating the demands on each side to him, we could have his approbation for breaking it off, I think it not impossible but the best consequences might follow; and with regard to North America, it is surely clear to demonstration, that it is of infinite consequence that it should be publicly understood who is to blame if the war continues. I do hope, therefore, that you will at all events stay long enough to make your propositions, and to call upon them to make others in return. I know your situation cannot be pleasant; but as you first undertook it in a great measure from friends.h.i.+p to me, so let me hope that the same motive will induce you to continue in it at least for some time.

What will be the end of this, G.o.d knows; but I am sure you will agree with me, that we cannot suffer a system to go on which is not only dishonourable to us, but evidently ruinous to the affairs of the country. In this instance, the mischief done by intercepting, as it were, the very useful information we expected through you from Franklin, is I fear in a great degree irremediable; but it is our business, and indeed our duty, to prevent such things for the future.

Everything in Ireland goes on very well; and I really think there is good reason to entertain hopes from Prussia and Russia, if your negotiation either goes on or goes off as it ought to do.

I can hardly read Monsieur de Guemene's letter, but wish to have two hundred bottles of the champagne, if there is really reason to think it good. By the way, I beg you will remember me to Monsieur de Guemene, and put him in mind of our former acquaintance in the Rue St. Pierre. If the wine in question is as good as that he used to rob from Monsieur de Soubise, I shall be very well satisfied. I will give Brooks directions to acquaint you with the proper manner of sending it. I am quite ashamed of dwelling so long upon this, after the very serious business of this letter; but you know I cannot help being a friend to the _poor abuses_; and besides, in a political light, good wine is no mean ingredient in keeping one's friends in good humour and steady to the cause.

I am,

My dear Grenville,

Yours most affectionately,

C. J. Fox.



Paris, June 16th, 1782.

Dear Charles,

I received your letter of the 10th by Ogg on the night of the 14th, and would have sent him back as immediately as you seemed to wish; but having no other messenger to carry M. de Vergennes's answer, I was obliged to keep him till he could be the bearer of that likewise.

I can easily conceive the embarra.s.sment occasioned to you by my letter, and have so much confidence in the honour of the persons to whom you communicated it, that I am not under the smallest uneasiness on that account; the explanation, however, that you wish to come to, certainly has its difficulties; and amongst them some so sacred, that unless they can be kept altogether clear, you cannot but agree with me in thinking that they must be buried at least in silence, though not in oblivion. In order therefore that you may see into every part of this business, I will, as you desire, state in the most explicit manner the circ.u.mstances of it, as far as I think they affect any confidence reposed in me.

In the first place, then, you will have observed, that although Franklin has actually made me no confidence, owing, as I believe, without doubt, to the reasons I stated, yet as the communication he had said he would make to me was of the most confidential nature, and in full trust that the subjects which he should mention should not be given as propositions coming from him, I think it would be a breach of that confidence to make it known even that he had promised to hold such a conversation with me; and therefore to charge Lord Shelburne with having diverted from me that expected communication, would be to proclaim Franklin's promise to me; which promise, though it has not been followed up, I cannot think myself at liberty to quote. The delicacy of Franklin's situation with respect to the French Court was, as he said, the ground of the caution which he observed, and which, nevertheless, he was once inclined to risk in my trust. He would certainly have both to repent and to complain if anything on my part should lead to betray even the confidential disposition he had entertained. These reasons you will, I am sure, agree with me in considering as decisive against any mention being to be made of the expectations I had formed from the conversation I was to have had with Franklin.

The Canada paper is not perhaps quite under the same circ.u.mstances. The only knowledge I have of that is from Oswald; and as I before told you, I had it from him at a moment when I fancy he apprehended I had heard or should hear of it from Franklin. No other reason, indeed, can account for his not mentioning it from the end of April till the 31st of May. He told it me under no express limitation of confidence: the words in which he introduced it were, "I think it right you should know;" and I am perfectly sure that he asked from me no engagement of secrecy, nor do I conceive myself under any with regard to him, except that general secrecy which is always attached to business of a confidential nature, such as was the business I related to you. I recollect asking whether he had showed the paper to you: he said No; but did not add any injunction to me not to do so; indeed, if he had, I should have stated to him the impossibility of my keeping from you a circ.u.mstance of that importance, or of my becoming, by my silence in it, a separate party to a business which it was my duty fully and entirely to lay before you and to receive from you; nor indeed at this moment is the knowledge of it confined to Lord Shelburne; as I am pretty sure Oswald told me that Lord Ashburton was with Lord Shelburne when he, Oswald, asked if he might give any answer to Franklin about the paper, or rather observed that he supposed he could not then have any answer to it. Under these circ.u.mstances, the difficulty with regard to the Canada paper, of which I have no copy, lies more possibly in the indelicacy and perhaps bad policy of bringing forward Franklin where he wished so much not to appear, than in the quoting it from me. I do not wish to be quoted, if there exists the least doubt whether I should. But I cannot more exactly explain to you the whole extent of that doubt, than by showing you that it does not exist in any specific obligation on my part, but only in the nature of what was told to me; the subject itself carrying with it, as you will see, many reasons for secrecy, and every mark of it in the manner of conducting it; but as to positive engagement or obligation upon this subject, I have none.

The remaining circ.u.mstance--of the intention mentioned to Mr.

Oswald by Lord Shelburne, of giving him a commission if it should be necessary--stands altogether clear of the slightest shade of difficulty upon the point of confidence; indeed, at the time I wrote you word of it, I did not imagine I was informing you of anything new or unknown to you; and only so far meant to dwell upon it, as to regret its happening precisely at the instant when it was most important it should not. I apprehended that Lord Shelburne might have already expressed such an intention to the rest of the King's Ministers, upon the ground of the American share of this business, which ground, in the present stage of it, I thought possibly you had not found it easy to object to. In this idea it was that Lord Fitzwilliam's appointment occurred to me, not to prevent a clandestine negotiation, but to unite a separated one; always imagining that you knew of, but did not resist, the intended commission to Mr.

Oswald, and therefore hinting the expediency of superseding it, by giving to another person an appointment of such rank and magnitude as should include a power which it seems neither for the public interest, nor for yours and your friends' interests, to leave separate and distinct.

To return, however, to the point of confidence: upon this last subject there is none; and you are certainly at full liberty to proclaim at Charing Cross that Lord Shelburne told Mr. Oswald he supposed he would not object to a commission if it should be necessary; and that since his last return to Paris, Mr. Oswald has told me he found it very much Franklin's wish likewise. If I may repeat, therefore, in a few words, what I have tried to express to you in a good many, it is that, as to Franklin's first intention of a private and confidential communication with me, I hold myself so engaged in secrecy to him, that I think it would be a breach of confidence in me to have that intention at all spoken of. As to the Canada paper, I leave it, with the comment I have made upon it, altogether to your discretion; and as to the proposed commission, you are certainly at full liberty to say of it what you please. I have it not in my power to give you any additional proofs of sinister management in this business. I seldom see Oswald, though upon good terms with him; and have seen Franklin, since Oswald's coming, but once, when he was as silent as ever, notwithstanding my reminding him of his promise; so that I cannot help thinking that business altogether irretrievable. But neither do I know what you will gain by forcing Oswald's return; indeed I am inclined to think it might be much more prudent to save appearances by leaving him here, till you shall have completed your purpose of receiving the propositions you wish or the refusal you wish from Versailles.

Perhaps, politically speaking, you may not think it wise to make the conduct, or rather misconduct, of a foreign negotiation the ground of a domestic rupture, which may betray too much weakness and disunion; but this is too delicate a subject for me to say anything upon, more than to a.s.sure you that, whatever is your determination about it, you will not find me shrink from the part I have or may have to take in it.

And one word here about the desire I have expressed to return to England: it is impossible not to say that I feel that desire in the strongest degree. I would not speak peevishly about my disappointment in the unlucky check that I have met with; but I think you will agree that the real service it might have been my good fortune perhaps to have been a.s.sisting in, is by that check completely annihilated, nor can any step now taken recover or retrieve it; and that consideration weighs pretty heavily in a situation in itself not agreeable to me. But if I repeat this now, it is to keep you awake to the earnest solicitations I make of returning in the first moment you may think it practicable; till then you need have no apprehension of seeing me, but may trust that no personal motives, however strong, can weigh against the important reasons you state, as well as the desire you express, for my continuing something longer at Paris.

I am writing to you on the 16th, waiting impatiently for M. de Vergennes's answer, which he gave me reason to hope I shall have to-morrow.


June 21st.

I have been waiting day after day, and have not got my answer till a few hours ago. I am sorry to have kept you so long, but you see it was impossible to avoid it. A report prevails that Bougainville is arrived at St. Domingo with two s.h.i.+ps, as likewise are the four that were at Curacao. They add that Rodney had been obliged to burn three of his captured s.h.i.+ps. La Motthe Peguet has twice had orders to sail from Brest with his seven s.h.i.+ps, and as often been recalled. They expect Guichen soon with the fleet from Cadiz of thirty-two s.h.i.+ps: they are said to have sailed on the 4th.

Pray tell Sheridan to be more cautious in what he writes by the post. If I had time I should give him a lecture; but I want to send away the messenger.

Adieu. Oswald affects to consider me now as fully authorized, but I believe expects different news as soon as the Independence Bill is pa.s.sed; but I cannot help thinking you had better leave him where he is, for his going away will mend nothing. I have bought your wine.

Ever very affectionately yours, T.G.

Within a few days after this letter reached England, the Rockingham Administration had ceased to exist. The Marquis of Rockingham, whose health had been declining for some time, died on the 1st of July, and was succeeded in his t.i.tle by his nephew, the Earl Fitzwilliam, who is alluded to in these letters by Mr. Thomas Grenville. The first intimation of this event conveyed to the Plenipotentiary at Paris was in a letter from his brother, Lord Temple. The circ.u.mstances that immediately followed are detailed in the letters of Lord Temple and Mr.

Sheridan, written on the same day, and in a letter from Mr. Fox on the day following. The apprehension expressed by Lord Temple that Fox's resignation would be ascribed by the public to a mean contest for offices was not unfounded; although such a motive cannot be believed to have influenced the mind of that statesman, the conviction of what he felt to be his duty on this occasion being shared by Mr. Sheridan, Mr.

Burke, Lord John Cavendish, Lord Althorpe and others, who instantly followed his example. The King's undisguised predilection for Lord Shelburne arose from the nearer agreement of their opinions on the American question, than existed between His Majesty and the Rockingham section of the Cabinet, who were for an unconditional recognition of the independence of America--a proceeding regarded by His Majesty with aversion. The rapidity with which the changes were adopted furnished a sufficient reason for Fox's determination not to act under Lord Shelburne, that n.o.bleman having accepted the appointment to the Treasury immediately on the death of Lord Rockingham, without consultation with his colleagues, and Lord Grantham being appointed in the same unceremonious way to the secretarys.h.i.+p vacated by his Lords.h.i.+p. A remarkable contradiction will be observed in the language held on this occasion by Lord Shelburne, who is reported by Lord Temple to have stated that he looked naturally to the Treasury, and knew no reason why he should forego it, while to Sheridan he declared that he entered upon the office against his wish.


London, July 4th, Twelve P.M. 1782.

My dear Brother,

My letters by the post have been so unfortunate, and the subject of the present hour is so important, that I have waited all this day for the certainty of a courier, and I am now promised that one shall be dispatched immediately. I was in the country when I received from Mr. Fox an express with the news of Lord Rockingham's death, and an earnest entreaty to come to town; which I did, and found him anxious for the future arrangements.

I told him, in the course of our conversation, that I held myself engaged to support the measures of the body of the Whigs, and deprecated any precipitate resolution, unless there was reason to imagine that _measures_ would be changed. He told me that a meeting had been held of the four friends of Lord Rockingham; viz., the Duke of Richmond, Lord J. Cavendish, Keppell and himself; that they had agreed to submit the Duke of Portland's name to the King, for the Treasury, but with little hopes of success; that he had writ to other great peers, &c., to come to town, and wished for their opinions; that he took it for granted that Lord Shelburne would insist upon the Treasury, and that the King would support him in that claim; that his idea was to quit immediately, but that others differed upon this, but that he was to see Lord Shelburne, and should then know more.

This interview took place, and the first account I had of it was from Lord Shelburne, who came to me in the House of Lords and desired to tell it to me. He stated general willingness to accommodate, and a fixed determination at all events to adhere to every measure of reform which had been proposed, and to facilitate Cabinet arrangements as far as could be hoped from him; that it was natural that the Treasury should be an object to him, that he knew no reason why he was always to forego, and stated the indisposition of the King's mind to any other person at the head of that board. This was attended with every expression of civility to me, and an earnest wish that I would not decline employment, but would engage in the King's service.

To this I made the answer which you can so easily conceive, and told him very fairly my intention to act with the great body of the Whigs; I proceeded to state the inconceivable difficulties attending our situation, the necessity of union, and the certain consequences of a breach between himself and the other great features of the Ministry.

I can hardly give you the detail of this very long conversation.

It was very free and open on both sides, and convinced me that he was certainly, and at all hazards, to have the situation, of which I hardly had a doubt before. He pledged himself repeatedly to the public measures, and to a variety of details which it is not necessary to state, and left me with every personal expression and many wishes that I would reconsider my answer.

The next moment, Fox came to me in the Prince's chamber, and I had nearly as long a conversation with him; he stated his knowledge that Lord Shelburne would succeed to Lord Rockingham, and his idea of throwing up. I stated Lord Shelburne's promises to measures, which I found Lord Shelburne had made to him; but the loss of the object, which was evidently a favourite point with him, seemed to affect him much. I repeated my apprehensions that the people would not stand by him in his attempt to quit upon private grounds, which from their nature would appear to be a quarrel for offices, and not a public measure. He saw all this, and said that it had been urged to him by several, but that he was not _determined_. I went into the House of Lords, where I found the Duke of Richmond, who was outrageous at the idea of a resignation, and who went before me in all I had said to Fox upon this subject; and you will easily conceive that this opinion was strengthened by the most explicit speech that I ever heard, which Lord Shelburne gave as his creed and the test of his conduct, and which indeed seemed satisfactory to every one who heard him.

This day has opened a new scene: the King declared his intention of giving the Treasury to Lord Shelburne; and it was proposed to Lord J. Cavendish to take the vacant seals, which, from variety of reasons, Lord John declined; and notwithstanding all that the Duke of Richmond could urge, Fox has resigned, and the King has accepted the seals. _En nova progenies!_ Lord Shelburne keeps the Treasury, and it is _supposed_ that Pitt is his Chancellor of the Exchequer; Duke of Grafton, Lord Camden, Conway, Duke of Richmond and Keppell remain, and mean to go on; who are the two Secretaries are not known. I have had a long conversation just now with the Duke of Richmond, who is unhappy, but determined to go on till the first breach on fair public grounds; and wherever or whenever he finds Lord Shelburne tripping, he has apprized him that he will quit, and the other has agreed to it, with every seeming profession of cordiality; and thus matters stand.

My opinion, from all whom I have seen, is that Fox has undone himself with the public; and his most intimate friends seem of the same opinion. I am now to request and desire of you, in the strongest terms, not to return from France till you hear further from me. Fox tells me, that you (being envoy) cannot come without the King's leave; and I must entreat of you, for the sake of the public, and of that Ministry which I trust and hope will still stand its ground, for the great and important objects which we had in view in March last--let me add, for your own sake--do not spread the alarm of returning till you hear from me again, which you certainly shall in a very short period. With every anxious hope and wish that affection can form,

Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 3

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