Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume II Part 4

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Stratton Street, Dec. 5th, 1788.


When I came home yesterday afternoon from the House, I wrote the enclosed minute of proceedings--a practice I shall continue to pursue until we meet, for your satisfactory information.

As to news, it consists in the rumour of a general change in Administration. I confess that so hasty a step as is generally talked of and believed, comes not within the scope of credit which my mind is framed to. Political wisdom suggests a multiplicity of reasons why the Prince of Wales should not act precipitately--nay, why Mr. Fox, &c., should not act precipitately; unless, indeed, to embroil the times, and seek occasions of profit and power from their turbulency and vicissitudes, may be the plot of some desperate men of the party. Of authorities for intentions of change, my best is Colonel Stanhope, who, coming from the Duke of Portland's the day before yesterday, mentioned that the arrangement of the new Administration was finally settled in everything; but, "that they had not yet succeeded in persuading the Duke of Devons.h.i.+re to go to Ireland."

_A-propos_ of Ireland. Accustomed to speculate on historical points, the _precedent_ seems to me eventful, indeed, on that side of the water. The times, indeed, are perilous, and must be met everywhere with wisdom and firmness. At all times, I am ever, my dear Lord, in truest affection of friends.h.i.+p, your devoted and obliged friend, &c.,



Whitehall, Dec. 6th, 1788.


I have great pleasure in being able to tell you that, in addition to what you will have seen in the examination taken before the Privy Council, a Dr. Willis, whose name you will probably have heard, saw the King yesterday, and that his opinion is still more favourable as to the prospect of recovery. I have but just seen Pitt, who has been at Kew this morning, and saw Willis there. This general information is all that he had then to mention; but if there should be any particulars of any importance, I will let you know them. I am much mortified by receiving half a dozen Irish papers together this morning without a word from you, as the speculations on your side of the water are by no means indifferent, or uninteresting here.

The papers will have told you what pa.s.sed in the two Houses. It was too late for me to write; nor, indeed, was Viner's nonsense worth sending. Fox looked ill, and spoke worse than I ever have heard him. His object was to beat about, and feel the pulse of the House with respect to further examination. I do not think he received much encouragement; but they are so anxious to mend this part of their case by cross-examining the physicians, that I am inclined to think they will try it. This opinion of Willis's is some temptation to us to allow it; but, on the whole, I think it better resisted.

I should be quite clear about it, if it was not from a fear that some individuals may be caught by the notion of parliamentary dignity, and that our first division may thereby be less favourable than if it was taken on any direct question of party.

I send you a note which Wilberforce put into my hands. If the thing cannot be done, pray send a separate and very civil letter about it; because this Sir J. Coghill is one of his chief friends in Yorks.h.i.+re, and he particularly desires to be able to send him a civil answer.

Ever most affectionately yours, W. W. G.

The next day, immediately after this favourable report from a physician whose experience in this particular branch of practice gave great weight to his opinions, Thurlow began to veer round again to the Ministry.

"Whatever object he might at one time have had in view," says Mr.

Grenville, "he has now taken his determination of abiding by the present Government." Thurlow, in short, was exactly the man the King believed him to be, and always kept in the sun.


Whitehall, Dec. 7th, 1788.


There is nothing particularly worth mentioning to you with respect to Willis, more than what I told you in my last letter. He expressed himself very strongly to Pitt as to his hopes of the King's recovery, and said that there was no symptom which he saw in him, or could learn from the other physicians, which he had not seen much stronger in other people who have recovered. He has, I understand, already acquired a complete ascendancy over him, which is the point for which he is particularly famous. He had the boldness yesterday to suffer the King to shave himself in his presence. The King was much more composed than he has ever been, slept uncommonly well the night before last; said in the morning that he found himself much better, for that Dr. Willis had settled his mind; and was remarkably quiet the whole of yesterday. The account this morning is also, I understand, very favourable. I have just seen a man who saw a note of Willis's dated late last night, in which he says that he is confident the King would do very well.

He is to continue entirely with him, and to have the complete management of him. The other physicians are, however, to see him, in order to keep him in bodily health.

It is quite ridiculous to see how angry the Opposition are at the report of the physicians, and particularly at what Warren said, which, I understand, was very different from what they had expected. They go so far as to say, that if Fox had been present he would not have dared to give such an evidence. They hope to mend it by a subsequent examination before a Committee of the House: the object of Willis being examined is so great, that I think we shall consent to something of this sort. Not only his opinion will have great weight, but it will also make the others very cautious what they say in opposition to it.

The behaviour of the two Princes is such as to shock every man's feelings. What do you think of the Duke of York's having a meeting of the Opposition at his house on Thursday, before the House of Lords met, and then going down there to hear the examinations read?

After that, they closed the day, by both going in the evening to Brooks's. The truth is, that the Duke is entirely in his brother's hands, and that the latter is taking inconceivable pains to keep him so, in order that he may not see what a line is open to him if he had judgment to follow it.

The a.s.surances of support which Pitt receives from all quarters are much beyond the expectations which we had formed. It is also clear that, whatever object Thurlow might at one time have had in view, he has now taken his determination of abiding by the present Government, and supporting their measures with respect to the Regency. I imagine that Lord Stafford and Lord Weymouth have chiefly influenced his resolution--their line having been clear and decided from the beginning.

On the other hand, there seems great reason to believe that the Prince of Wales is inclined to go to all the lengths to which that party are pus.h.i.+ng him. They have for several days been spreading a report that he has expressed a determination not to accept of the Regency under any restrictions or in any manner at all short of regal power; and that the Duke of York was commissioned by him to have declared this on Thursday, if anything had been said that could at all have led to it. The story of to-day is, that the three Royal Dukes have a.s.sured him of their resolution to refuse it if tendered to them on similar terms, and that they have authorized Fox to say this in the House of Commons. There is no knowing what sort of effect this may produce with respect to the measures of the present moment: that must depend entirely on the sort of turn that the people in general may take upon it at first. But it is very evident that by such a step the Prince will do himself a permanent mischief which he will never be able to repair, and which we shall probably all of us have much reason to regret. It is quite clear that, having once proposed these restrictions, as thinking them necessary for the interest of the King (and on that ground only could we propose them), no other motive whatever can be a justification for abandoning them, as long as there can be found one individual or set of individuals who will undertake to carry on the Government, and as long as Parliament continues to think the proposal right and equitable. What all this may produce, G.o.d only knows. Our reliance can only be on the discharge of what we owe to the King in grat.i.tude and duty, and in the decided manner in which we have put all considerations out of the question which can personally affect our own interests.

In the midst of all this confusion, and while his sons and brothers are struggling to gain entire possession of his authority, the King may recover his reason. What a scene will present itself to him!

and how devoutly must he pray, if he is wise, to lose again all power of recollection or reflection.

The struggle was now beginning in earnest between the Ministers and the Prince of Wales. The point at issue apparently narrowed itself to the restrictions; but there lay beneath this question of royal expediency a great const.i.tutional principle, which was gradually developed in the progress of the subsequent debates. It was not alone that Mr. Fox and his party demanded the Regency without any limitations whatever, but that they demanded it as a right; setting up the doctrine that when the Sovereign, from any cause, became incapacitated, the Heir Apparent had an indisputable claim to the executive authority during the continuance of the incapacity, just as he would have on the demise of the Crown. It was strange enough that this doctrine, which Mr. Pitt denounced as "treason against the Const.i.tution," should have been maintained by the avowed champions of popular liberty; and that it should have been reserved for the Ministers of the King to defend the interests of the people against the encroachments of royalty. Mr. Pitt a.s.serted that the right of providing a remedy for the suspension of the regular powers of Government rested solely with the people, "from whom," he added, "all the powers of Government originate." The language he held upon this occasion is remarkable not only from its const.i.tutional soundness, but for the perspicuity with which it states the actual question in contest, stripped of all disguises and evasions. "To a.s.sert an inherent right in the Prince of Wales to a.s.sume the Government, is virtually to revive those exploded ideas of the divine and indefeasible authority of Princes, which have so justly sunk into contempt and almost oblivion.

Kings and Princes derive their power from the people; and to the people alone, through the organ of their representatives, does it appertain to decide in cases for which the Const.i.tution has made no specific or positive provision." It will be seen that in the end the Prince of Wales was obliged to abandon his claim of right, and that the steadfastness of Pitt finally secured the recognition of the principle which placed in the hands of Parliament the settlement of the conditions under which His Royal Highness was to enter upon the Regency.

This glance at the subject is a little in advance of the correspondence; but it will be useful as a key to the points of discussion thrown up in its progress. The fulness and freshness of the letters, written daily, and containing the most minute history of those proceedings that has yet appeared in print, requires such slight elucidation as to render it undesirable to interrupt their continuity by commentaries, except where it may become necessary to direct attention to some special matter.

Both parties were now gathering their allies around them, and preparing for a contest which was not very creditable to the political character of the Opposition. In the meanwhile a third party was forming, which, trying to reconcile hopeless antagonisms, ran its head against a crotchet, resisting the restrictions on the one hand, and supporting Mr.

Pitt, as Minister, on the other, for the sake of his popularity and transcendant abilities. This line of conduct is justly described by Mr.

Grenville as "absolute nonsense."


Whitehall, Dec. 9th, 1788.


The messenger who carries this is sent for the purpose of collecting proxies. It is, you know, necessary that they should be renewed every session; for which reason I have desired that a blank proxy should be directed to you, which I suppose you will fill up, as before, with Fortescue's name. He is quite eager (especially for him), and came up to town for the first day. I think there is every reason to hope that we shall not stand in need of this sort of canva.s.s, either for the House of Commons or the House of Lords; but you will certainly agree with me, that no pains are superfluous when such points are in question.

I do not learn that there is any foundation for the report which I mentioned to you of the round-robin entered into by their Royal Highnesses. The partizans of Opposition are, however, still circulating, with great industry, the idea that the Prince of Wales has positively declared his resolution not to accept the Regency under any restrictions whatever. I take this, however, to be nothing more than a bully, intended to influence votes in the House of Commons. If, however, he should be so desperate, I should hope there would be every reason to believe that the Queen would be induced to take the Regency, in order to prevent the King's hands from being fettered for the remainder of his life. Nothing has yet pa.s.sed with respect to this subject. Pitt has seen her once; but the conversation was nothing more than general, although with the greatest civility, and even kindness, on her part towards him.

We receive every day new professions of attachment; and I do not yet hear of any one individual of any consequence whom we shall lose, except, probably, the Duke of Queensbury. The Duke of Grafton has declared himself explicitly. There is no longer any doubt of Thurlow; and there never has been any of Lord Stafford, Lord Weymouth, &c. Lord Lonsdale is still uncertain, and so is, I believe, the Duke of Northumberland--though this will have been brought to a point by this time. The general idea is, that he has connected himself with the Independents, of which there was some appearance last session. It is said that they mean to support Pitt as the Minister, but to oppose any restrictions on the Regent. This is not the less likely to be their conduct, on account of its being absolute nonsense.

With respect to individuals in the House of Commons, there are several who have long been wavering, and who have sent the most positive a.s.surances of support.

There is every reason to believe that the country will continue entirely with us, and that addresses will be presented from all parts to the Regent, to continue the Government. I am afraid that, in point of time, nothing can be done of that sort in Ireland, without exposing you to much embarra.s.sment.

I conceive that our Regent will probably be appointed, the Bill pa.s.sed, &c., &c., by about the 10th or 12th of January, and that we shall then immediately be dismissed. You certainly must remain till your Parliament has met and appointed the Regent for Ireland, because there is no one else who can vacate your commission; and I think the contrivances which you once mentioned for avoiding it, are liable to great objections. Now, you will observe, that the addresses from Ireland could not be presented to the Prince of Wales till he was Irish Regent, and that it would be a very awkward thing to have the people there addressing him to continue you in Ireland, after you had declared your own resolution to quit it in consequence of the removal of your friends here. I wish you would consider all this attentively, because, if these difficulties could be removed, it would certainly be very desirable that it should appear as far as possible to be the united sense of all the three kingdoms, as well as of both Houses of Parliament, and of the King, that the present Government should remain; and that these Whigs should recommend the dismission in the teeth of all these.

Willis sent last night a note to Pitt about his attendance at the Committee to-day. In a postscript, he tells him that he thinks the King better and more composed than he has been since he has attended him.

Ever most affectionately yours, W. W. G.

A new question and a new embarra.s.sment now arose, as to what was to be done about the Regency in Ireland. It was natural enough that the Prince of Wales should be popular in Ireland as a _pis aller_, on account of the known antipathy of the King to the Catholic claims; and it was apprehended that the Irish Parliament, acting independently of English precedent, would declare itself in favour of an unlimited Regency. The anxiety to which Lord Buckingham was exposed by this disturbing prospect (some people went so far as to cast the horoscope of an Irish revolution), and by the delays in the receipt of intelligence, owing to the imperfect and irregular means of communication existing between the two countries, betrayed him into some expressions of impatience, against which Mr. Grenville remonstrated with his habitual temperance and good sense, throwing out at the same time some sound suggestions as to the course it was desirable the Lord-Lieutenant should pursue. There are no qualities in these letters, wherever reference is made to the conduct of public men in great crises, more worthy of unmixed admiration than their practical sagacity and complete self-control.


Whitehall, Dec. 10th, 1788.


Your messenger having been, as he says, four or five days at sea, has just brought me your letter of the 2nd. I cannot avoid expressing to you the mortification I felt, on finding it filled with complaints of want of communication. It is now more than a month that I have written to you constantly seven days in the week, with the exception, I believe, of not four days in the whole time.

I do this, not only without reluctance, but with pleasure, because I think it contributes to your satisfaction, and because it is a real relief to my mind to converse with you in this manner on the subjects which are, in the present moment, so interesting to us both. But I do it often under circ.u.mstances of so much other business, as makes it impossible for me to keep any copies or memoranda of what I write. I cannot, therefore, distinctly call back to my mind the thread of that correspondence; but, as far as my memory serves, I solemnly protest I know of no one fact, opinion, or conjecture, that could be of the least use to you, or could even satisfy your curiosity, that I have not regularly communicated to you as it arose.

You seem to have mistaken some expression in one of my letters, and to have understood that the proposition itself relating to the Regency was to have been brought forward on Thursday last. You will since have seen, that the preliminary steps require so much time, that it must still be Monday, or more probably Wednesday next, before anything can be moved. But you say that you have received no communication of the extent or wording of that plan, so as to consider its legal or political effect towards Ireland. On this, I can only say, that long before the outlines of that plan were finally settled, even, I believe, in Mr. Pitt's mind, certainly long before they were at all agreed upon by the Cabinet, I communicated them to you distinctly, and at length. There has since been no variation in these. With respect to the precise wording of the plan, I do not know that this is yet decided upon; nor do I suppose it can be so, till within a few hours of its being moved.

But as to any legal effect which it can have upon Ireland, I have certainly failed in what I intended to do, if I have not stated to you a clear opinion, that no measure taken in Parliament here can possibly affect Ireland any otherwise than as a precedent, which every Irishman must think himself bound to follow, who does not wish to separate the two countries. It surely could not be your wish, nor would it be desirable, to attempt to pledge any Irishman one step beyond that general proposition, that whatever is done by the authority of the British Parliament as to England, must be done in Ireland by the authority of the Irish Parliament; but that the latter will grossly betray the interests of their own country, if they do not adopt the English measure, whatever that may ultimately be. I trust that we shall be able to carry the measure here, such as I stated to you long ago, some time before your Parliament meets; but if it should fail, and any different form be established, I hope we should be the last men in the two countries to wish to disunite them on this ground.

Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume II Part 4

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