Cookie Consent

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lord Shelburne, Part One

      " It could no longer be concealed that, by virtue of a plausible phrase, power had been transferred from the Crown to a Parliament, the members of which were appointed by an extremely limited and exclusive class, who owned no responsibility to the country, who debated and voted in secret, and who were regularly paid by the small knot of great families that by this machinery had secured the permanent possession of the king's treasury.  Whiggism was putrescent in the nostrils of the nation;  we were probably on the eve of a bloodless yet important revolution;  when Rockingham, a virtuous magnifico, alarmed and disgusted, resolved to revive something of the pristine purity and high-toned energy of the old Whig connection, appealed to his 'new generation' from a degenerate age, arrayed under his banner the generous youth of the Whig families, and was fortunate to enlist in the service the supreme genius of Edmund Burke.

       No sooner had a young and dissolute noble{C.J. Fox}, who, with some of the aspirations of a Caesar, oftener realised the conduct of a Catiline, appeared on the stage, and after some inglorious tergiversation adopted their colours, than they transferred to him the command which had been won by wisdom and genius, vindicated by unrivalled knowledge and adorned by accomplished eloquence.  When the hour arrived for the triumph which he had prepared, he was not even admitted into the Cabinet, virtually presided over by his graceless pupil, and who, in the profuse suggestions of his teeming converse, had found the principles and the information which were among the chief claims to public confidence of Mr. Fox.

       To understand Mr. Pitt, one must understand one of the suppressed characters of English history, and that is Lord Shelburne.  When the fine genius of the injured Bolingbroke, the only peer of his period who was educated, and proscribed by the oligarchy because they were afraid of his eloquence, 'the glory of his order and the shame,' shut out from Parliament, found vent in those writings which recalled to the English people the inherent blessings of their old free monarchy, and painted in immortal hues his picture of a patriot king, the spirit that he raised at length touched the heart of Carteret, born a Whig, yet sceptical of the advantages of that patrician constitution which made the Duke of Newcastle, the most incompetent of men, but the chosen leader of the Venetian party, virtually sovereign of England.  Lord Carteret had many brilliant qualities:  he was undaunted, enterprising, eloquent;  had considerable knowledge of continental politics, was a great linguist, a master of public law;  and though he failed in his premature effort to terminate the dogeship of George the Second, he succeeded in maintaining a considerable though secondary position in public life.  The young Shelburne married his daughter.  Of him it is singular we know less than of his father-in-law, yet from the scattered traits some idea may be formed of the ablest and most accomplished minister of the eighteenth century.  Lord Shelburne, influenced probably by the example and the traditionary precepts of his eminent father-in-law, appears early to have held himself aloof from the patrician connection, and entered public life as the follower of Bute in the first great effort of George the Third to rescue the sovereignty from what Lord Chatham called 'the Great Revolution families.'  He became in time a member of Lord Chatham's last administration;  one of the strangest and most unsuccessful efforts to aid the grandson of George the Second in his struggle for political emancipation.  Lord Shelburne adopted from the first the Bolingbroke system;  a real royalty, in lieu of the chief magistracy;  a permanent alliance with France, instead of the Whig scheme of viewing in that power the natural enemy of England;  and, above all, a plan of commercial freedom, the germ of which may be found in the long-maligned negotiations of Utrecht, but which, in the instance of Lord Shelburne, were soon in time matured by all the economical science of Europe, in which he was a proficient.  Lord Shelburne seems to have been of a reserved and somewhat astute disposition:  deep and adroit, he was however brave and firm.  His knowledge was extensive and even profound.  He was a great linguist;  he pursued both literary and scientific investigations;  his house was frequented by men of letters, especially those distinguished by their political abilities or economical attainments.  He maintained the most extensive private correspondence of any public man of his time.  The earliest and most authentic information reached him from all Courts and quarters of Europe;  and it was a common phrase, that the minister of the day sent to him often for the important information which the Cabinet could not itself command.  Lord Shelburne was the first great minister who comprehended the rising importance of the middle class, and foresaw in its future power a bulwark for the throne against 'the Great Revolution families.'  Of his qualities in council we have no record;  there is reason to believe that his administrative ability was conspicuous;  his speeches prove that, if not supreme, he was eminent, in the art of parliamentary disputation, while they show on all the questions discussed a richness and variety of information, with which the speeches of no statesman of that age except Mr. Burke can compare." Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, Pgs. 13, 14,15-16. (Wordsworth ed.)

No comments: