Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

3

seriously damaged by the new Marriage Act; and we do not find that any compensation was voted to the sufferers. Mr. Robert Nugent, one of the parliamentary orators against the Act, said, “How fond our people are of private marriages, and of saving a little money, we may be convinced of by the multitude of marriages at Keith's chapel, compared with the number at any parish church.” The Reverend Alexander Keith originally officiated in May Fair; but being excommunicated, and committed to the Fleet, he continued to carry on the old trade by the agency of curates. According to Mr. Nugent, “at Keith’s chapel there have been six thousand married in a year.” Keith published a pamphlet during the progress of the Bill, in which he said that the pure design of the measure was to suppress his chapel-a very worthy design, however Mr. Nugent might approve of the celerity and cheapness of Keith's ceremonials. May Fair was the fashionable

marriage shop;” but the Fleet prison had the advantage of being open to the humblest seekers of conjugal happiness. Keith gen. erously records of this rival establishment, “ I have often heard a Fleet parson say, that many have come to be married when they have had but half-a-crown in their pockets, and sixpence to buy a pot of beer, and for which they have pawned some of their clothes.” The motto which worthy Mr. Keith affixed to his pamphlet was “ Happy is the wooing that is not long a-doing ;” and he avers that of the many thousands he had married, the generality had been acquainted not more than a week, some only a day, or half a

.

The Marriage Act of 1753 has been justly regarded as the great step in the improvement of the conjugal relations of the people of England, high and low. Marriage was to become a solemn contract, in every case; not to be rushed upon without deliberation; not to be ratified without witnesses and public record. Like every other improvement in manners, the social tendency had preceded the legislative action to some limited extent; and then the legal reform hastened on the social amelioration. To the great change in the family relations of this country, of which the Marriage Act was an exponent as well as a cause, has been attributed the wondrous growth of the population in the short space of one century. A minister of state, gifted with prophetic power, has been imagined thus to address the people of Great Britain, in 1751: “ These islands, and Ireland, are occupied by the men of many separate states that are now happily united. After the settlement on the land of tribes, fleets, and armies of Celts, of Saxons, of Danes, and

• Burn's " Fleet Registers," p. 99.

day, *

THE MARRIAGE ACT.

587

of Normans, and after centuries of patient culture, its fertile soil sustains seven millions of people in its whole length from the Isle of Wight to the Shetland Islands. We cannot-for the mighty power is not given us-say, let there be on the European shores of the Atlantic Ocean three Great Britains. But the means exist for creating on this land, in less than a hundred years, two more nations, each in number equal to the existing population, and of distributing them over its fields, in cottages, farms, and towns, by the banks of its rivers, and around its immemorial hills : and they will thus be neither separated by larger roads, nor wider seas, but be neighbours, fellow-workers, and fellow-countrymen on the old territory; wielding by machines the forces of nature, that shall serve them with the strength of thousands of horses, on roads and seas,-in mines, manufactories, and ships. Subsistence shall be as abundant as it is now, and luxuries, which are confined to the few, shall be enjoyed by multitudes. The wealth of the country its stock and its produce-shall increase in a faster ratio than the people. All this shall be accomplished without any miraculous agency, by the progress of society,—by the diffusion of knowledge and morals,-by improvements,-and improvements chiefly in the institution of marriage— that true source of human offspring, whence,

a

* Founded in reason, loyal, just, and pure, Relations dear, and all the charities Of father, son, and brother, first were known.'"*

• “Census Report," 1851, p. lxij.

CHAPTER XXXII.

Death of Mr. Pelham.- Newcastle's Ministry. – Negotiations with Fox.-Pitt passed

over.-Parliament meets.- Fox a Cabinet Minister. --Retrospect of Indian Affairs.Clive.-Capture and Defence of Arcot.-North American Colonies.-Contests on the Ohio.-Naval Victories.--Subsidies agreed upon by the king. - Parliament.--Great Debate.--Single-Speech Hamilton.-Pitt.-Fox Secretary of State. -Pitt dismissed from his office of Paymaster.- Earthquake at Lisbon.

men.

The prime minister, Mr. Pelham, died on the 6th of March, 1754. Horace Walpole, who underrates the public services of this statesman, has this tribute to his moderation and disinterestedness : " Let it be remembered that, though he first taught or experienced universal servility in Englishmen, yet he lived without abusing his power, and died poor." * The king clearly saw what a hubbub of conflicting ambitions would result from the necessity of a new cast of characters for the political drama. “I shall now have no more peace," exclaimed the old man. The duke of Newcastle achieved the great object of his ambition, in succeeding his brother as the head of the Treasury. If experience could give a politician claims to be the ruler of a great nation, and moreover of a nation very difficult to manage, Newcastle had claims above most

He had been Secretary of State in 1724, under sir Robert Walpole. Carteret had kept him in the same office, though he despised him. His thirst for power was insatiable. He impaired his estate to maintain and extend his parliamentary influence ; and thus, whoever was turned out, Newcastle always kept in. Jealous of every man of ability to whom it was necessary to entrust some share of authority, he was always in terror that his subalterns might be called to command, although ever professing his anxiety for their promotion. Always seeking the doubtful support of “ troops of friends," he never offended any man by a plain “ No," and was often “under the same engagements to at least ten competitors," as lord Waldegrave affirms. But he was in many respects incompetent to manage any public business that required resolution and steadiness; and his ignorance was so manifested in his flighty and inconsistent talk, that what looks like a joke in Smollett's novel has been received as a reliable fact. He had heard that thirty thousand French had marched to Cape Breton. Where did

*“ Memoirs of Reign of George 11." vol. i. p. 371.

9

NEWCASTLE AND FOX.

589

66

[ocr errors]

they get transports ? was asked. “ Transports.” cried he, “ I tell you they marched by land.” By land to the island of Cape Breton !”—“What! is Cape Breton an island ?” It was pointed out in the map; and the delighted minister, hugging his informant, ejaculated, “ Egad! I'll go directly, and tell the king that Cape Breton is an island.” *

In the House of Lords, the duke's performances are thus de. scribed by a just and impartial observer: “ Hear him speak in Par. liament, his manner is ungraceful, his language barbarous, his reasoning inconclusive. At the same time he labours through all' the confusion of a debate without the least distrust of his own abilities ; fights boldly in the dark ; never gives up the cause ; nor is he ever at a loss either for words or argument.” | He has had many successors in this line; but at that period the House of Commons required to be managed by a different species of oratory. Three of the great masters of eloquence were in that House-Pitt, Fox, and Murray. Newcastle offered the seals of Secretary of State, with the lead of the Commons, to Mr. Fox. The offer was fully justified by the ability and the experience of this gentleman, who started in public life“ a needy political adventurer,” as he has been called—“ at a time when the standard of integrity amongst statesmen was low.” I This adherent of sir Robert Walpole would not shrink from any participation in the corruption which gave ascendancy to the duke of Newcastle. Fox desired to be actively engaged in working the parliamentary system. As secretary of war, he had no seat in the Cabinet; no responsibility beyond the routine duties of his office. The prospect of a place which would give him real power raised all the ambition of Fox; who, says lord Hardwicke, “ within a few hours of Mr. Pelham's death, had made strong advances, to the duke of Newcastle and myself.” ş But there was a hitch in the completion of the arrangement proposed by Newcastle, which is singularly indicative of the political degradation of those times. Fox agreed to accept the secretaryship and the management of the House of Commons, He very reluctantly gave up the disposal of the secret service money, but he stipulated that he was to know how the bribes were disposed of. The next day, Newcastle receded from this condition. How am I to understand, said Fox, how to talk to members of Parliament, when some have received “gratifications,” and others not? His brother, said

.“ Humphrey Clmker."
| Lord Waldegrave--"Memoirs from 1754 to 1758," p. 13
* " Edinburgh Review," vol. lxxiü. p. 562.
f" Chatham Correspondence," vol. i. p. 91.

[ocr errors]

Newcastle, had never disclosed these things, nor would he. How, asked Fox, are the ministerial boroughs to be filled up? That is all settled, said the duke. Fox rejected the secretaryship; and Newcastle had to look out for a more pliant tool.*

The prime minister and the lord-chancellor appear now to have turned their thoughts to Mr. Pitt. There are apologetical letters to him from these great personages, obscurely intimating the difficulties which they had encountered in their abortive endeavours to add his strength to their party. Sir Thomas Robinson, a dull diplomatist, was appointed to the office which Fox had rejected. Pitt was indignant. The humiliation of his proud spirit may be read in this passage of a letter to lord Hardwicke : “The weight of irremoveable royal displeasure is a load too great to move under; it must crush any man; it has sunk and broke me. I succumb; and wish for nothing but a decent and innocent retreat, wherein I may no longer, by continuing in the public stream of promotion, for ever stick fast aground, and afford to the world the ridiculous spectacle of being passed by every boat that navigates the same river.” | Pitt found his consolations in a happy marriage with lady Hester Grenville, a sister of earl Temple. The calm of the domestic life of this eminent man presents a refreshing contrast to the agitations of his public career. Whenever we have grimpses of him in his country retreat at Hayes, we see him in the fuil enjoyment of as much tranquil pleasure as his infirm health would allow ;-exercising his taste in improving his little property; reading; educating his children; an exemplary husband and father in a dissipated age. Of those wonderful powers which give him, without vanity, the right to claim the highest position amongst public men, his contemporaries were fully aware. We cannot judge, as they could, of that eloquence of which the admiration may appear to us overcharged, when we regard the fragmentary state in which it has come down to us. His faults were patent to all the world. They have been much paraded of late years-his haughtiness, his intractability, his self-assertion. But after a century has passed, and all the petty men and paltry interests of the first William Pitt's time are hastening to oblivion, his grand figure stands out, -- a giant amongst pigmies. In the words of Frederick of Prussia, England had at length brought forth a man.

* Walpole “ Memoirs," vol. i. p. 382.
+ " Chatham Correspondence," vol. i. p. 105.

I“Il faut avouer que l'Angleterre été long-tems en travail; et qu'elle a beaucoup soufferte pour produire Monsieur Pitt; mais enfin elle est accouchée d'un homme." " Chatham Correspondence," vol. i. p. 445.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »