Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

could complain that the naval power of the country was inefficiently employed. No British admiral could have manifested more energy and promptitude than admiral Bying displayed, in exploits that required the utmost courage and decision of character. He rendered the most efficient aid to the forces of the emperor in the contest with the Spaniards for the possession of Sicily. By his sagacious counsels he gave a successful direction to the languid efforts of the imperial commanders, who were jealous of each other, and divided in their plans. Their troops were destitute of provisions, and he supplied them by sea with stores, to prevent them starving in the interior of the island. They were insufficiently supplied with ammunition, and he furnished them with the means of attack and defence. With such aid the Austrians, after a serious defeat at Franca Villa, in June, 1719, were enabled to besiege the Spaniards in Messina, of whose citadel they obtained possession in October. There were military operations of less importance before the Spaniards finally evacuated Sicily and Sardinia. Meanwhile, the French had sent an army against Spain, under the command of the duke of Berwick, the natural son of James 11.-the general who had won the victory of Almanza for the Bourbon king of Spain. Berwick was now to lead an army against the same king; and he was to be assisted by English sailors belonging to the government of the sovereign who was regarded as an usurper by the head of his own family. The French made themselves masters of Fuenterabia and St. Sebastian; and lord Cobbam, with an English squadron, captured Vigo. These disasters might have convinced Alberoni that the conflict with these great powers, in which Spain had engaged, was an undertaking in which his own abilities could not supply the want of material resources. But he probably was not prepared to be deserted by the court which he had so ably served in the endeavour to increase its power and importance. Before the reverses in Sicily, Alberoni had made overtures for peace. Stanhope proposed to Dubois, to demand from king Philip the dismissal of his minister. His ambition, said Stanhope, had been the sole cause of the war; and “it is not to be imagined that he will ever lose sight of his vast designs, or lay aside the intention of again bringing them forward, whenever the recovery of his strength, and the remissness of the allied powers, may flatter him with the hopes of better success." King Philip submitted to this dictation. In December, 1719, Alberoni, by a royal decree, was dismissed from all his employments, and was commanded to leave the Spanish territory within twenty-one days. Incapable grandees rejoiced that the son of an Italian gardener no

longer ruffled their solemn pride ; some loftier spirits testified their respect to fallen greatness. The cardinal went back to Italy, a poor man. After vain attempts to resist or evade the demands of the Allies that Spain should accede to the Quadruple Alliance, that accession was proclaimed in January, 1720; Philip declaring that he gave peace to Europe at the sacrifice of his rights. He renewed his renunciation of the French crown. Europe was again at peace. Even the Czar of Muscovy had been warned by the presence of an English feet in the Baltic, that he would not be permitted utterly to destroy Sweden. By England's protection of the female successor of Charles XII., the elector of Hanover secured Bremen and Verden. The policy of foreign affairs did not exclusively contemplate the safety of king George's island subjects, but there was no advocacy of merely German policy of which the nation had a right to complain. The reputation of Great Britain was not damaged by the mode in which the war had been carried on. Her naval strength had been successfully exerted. A peace of twelve years, with a very trivial interruption, was the result of the Quadruple Alliance.

The two parliamentary Sessions of 1719 were remarkable for ministerial attempts to carry a measure which would have produced a vital change in the composition of the House of Lords. It was proposed to limit the royal power of creating peers; and the king was persuaded to send a message to the Lorcis, that his majesty has so much at heart the settling the Peerage of the whole kingdom upon such a foundation as may secure the freedom and constitution of Parliament in all future ages, that he is willing his prerogatire stand not in the way of so great and necessary a work. In February, Resolutions were proposed in the Upper House that the English peers should not be increased beyond six of their present number; with the ex eption of princes of the blood ; and that instead of there being sixteen elective peers for Scotland, the king should name twenty-five as hereditary peers. In the House of Lords, the Resolutions were carried by a large majority. The proposition produced an excessive ferment. The Whig members and the Whig writers took different sides. Addison supported the Bill; Steele opposed it. The measure was abandoned on account of the strong feeling which it produced on its first introduction; but it was again brought forward in the Session which commenced on the 23rd of November. It passed the Lords, with very slight opposition. In the Commons the Bill was rejected by a very large majority, 269 to 167. On this occasion Walpole, generally the plainest and most business-like of speakers, opposed the Bill withi

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

a rhetorical force which, according to the testimony of Speaker Onslow, “ bore down every thing before him.” The exordium of his speech is remarkal l: “ Among the Romans, the wisest people upon earth, the Temple of Fame was placed behind the Temple of Virtue, to denote that there was no coming to the Temple of Fame, but through that of Virtue. But if this Bill is passed into a law, one of the most powerful incentives to virtue would be taken away, since there would be no arriving at honour but through the windingsheet of an old decrepit lord, or the grave of an extinct noble family; a policy very different from that glorious and enlightened nation, who made it their pride to hold out to the world illustrious examples of merited elevation: *

“ Patere honoris scirent ut cuncti viam."

The opponents of the Peerage Bill did not fail to use the obvious argument, that although the prerogative of the Crown might be abused by the creation of Peers, as in the late reign, to secure a majority for the Court; there was a greater danger in so limiting the peerage as to make the existing body what Walpole called * a compact impenetrable phalanx."

CHAPTER XXII.

The South Sea scheme.-Public infatuation.-The bubble bursts.-Parliamentary meas

ures.--Session of 1722.- Plot for Invasion and Insurrection-Trial of Atterbury, biscop of Rochester.--His banishment.-Wod's Patent for a Copper Coinage in Ireland.

- The Drapier's Letters. The Ale-duty in Scotland.-Riot at Glasgow.--Impeachment of Lord-Chancelor Micc'esfield.-Foreign Affairs. - Treaty of Hanover.Siege of Gibraltar.-Peace.- Death of George I.

The great event of the sixth year of the reign of George I. was the exciting affair of the South Sea scheme-an event upon which after the lapse of a hundred and forty years, we may still look with greater interest than upon the Treaties and the Wars of which it is said, with some truth, that they are to us as the “ mere bubblings up of the general putrid fermentation of the then political world."* Few people of that time clearly understood what this famous South Sea project meant; and it is somewhat difficult to make it intelligible now.

In the infant days of the National Debt the great terror of statesmen was its increase and duration. At the accession of queen Anne, the debt amounted to sixteen millions; at her death it had reached fifty-two millions. In 1711 there was a floating debt of about ten millions. Harley, then Lord Treasurer, proposed to create a fund for that sum ; and to secure the payment of interest, by making certain duties of Customs permanent. Capitalists who held debentures were to become shareholders in a Company incorporated for the purpose of carrying on a monopoly of trade to the Spanish Coasts of South America ; making the new fund a part of their capital stock. Thus was established the South Sea Company. When the peace of Utrecht was complete, Spain refused to permit any approach to the free trade which would have made such a commercial Company of value. One ship only was allowed to be sent annually. A few factories were established, and the one ship sailed in 1717. Alberoni broke the treaty, and seized the British goods. But the Company had other means for the employment of capital ; and many opulent persons were amongst its shareholders and directors. At the opening of the Session of Parliament in November, 1719,

Carly!e-"Friedrich," vol. 1. p. 559

THE SOUTH SEA SCHEME.

407

the king said to the Commons, “I must desire you to turn your thoughts to all proper means for lessening the debts of the nation.” In January, 1720, a proposal was read to the House of Commons from the South Sea Company, in which it was set forth that if certain public debts and annuities were made part of the capital stock of the Company, it would greatly contribute to that most desirable end adverted to in his majesty's speech. Before that speech was delivered, sir John Blunt, a South Sea director, had been in communication with the ministers, who gave a favourable ear to his projects. There was an annual charge upon the revenue of eight hundred thousand pounds, for irredeemable annuities granted in the reigns of William and Anne. To buy up these annuities was the advantageous point in the proposal of the Company. The House of Commons agreed in the necessity of reducing the public debts. “Till this was done,” said Mr. Brodrick, who moved that other Companies should be allowed to compete, “we could not, properly speaking, call ourselves a nation." The Bank of England accordingly sent in a rival proposal; and the two Companies went on outbidding each other, till the South Sea Company's large offer to provide seven millions and a-half to buy up the Annuities was accepted. The annuitants were not compelled to exchange their government security for the Company's Stock; and the chief doubt seemed to be whether the greater number would consent to this transfer. Although the terms offered by the Company to the annuitants were not encouraging, there was a rush to accept them. To hold Stock in a Company whose exclusive trading privileges might realise that “ potentiality of wealth” which is never “beyond the dreams of avarice,” was a far grander thing than to receive seven, eight, or even nine per cent upon annuities. Within six days of the announcement of the Company's terms, two-thirds of the annuitants had exchanged their certain income for the boundless imaginary riches of South America.

Upon this foundation was built the most enormous fabric of national delusion that was ever raised amongst an industrious, thrifty, and prudent people. It had been long manisest that there was a great amount of superfluous capital, especially of the hoardings of the middle classes, which wanted opportunities for employ

To obtain interest for small sums was scarcely practicalle for the mass of those who were enabled to keep their expenditure below their incomes. Before the beginning of the century, Ccmpanies, more or less safe, had been formed to meet this desire for investments. In spite of the long wars of the reigns of William and Anne, and the Jacobite plots and rebellions which threatened

ment.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »