Page images

light was in the conversation of his own family, and a very few of the nobles about his person, who were most devotedly attached to him. Among those who held that distinction, John Duke of Roxburghe was particularly distinguished. He was, as is well known, a bibliomaniac, like his Majesty. Each was the happy possessor of a copy of Caxton's Book of Troye; but the King examined his own with such accuracy, as enabled him to prove to demonstration, that though both copies were of the same edition, that in the Royal Library must have been more early thrown off than the Duke's, because a leaf in the former was what is technically called locked,* an error which had been discerned and corrected in the Duke's copy. So that his Majesty triumphed that his own copy of the first book (we believe) of the English press was also the earliest printed.

Mechanics were also a favourite study of the King, who used to amuse himself with the construction of optical and other philosophical instruments. It will give an idea of his good nature to mention, that his Majesty had bespoken a complicated instrument from the celebrated Ramsden, and had directed the artist, who was not so much re

* Such is the phrase when, by an error at press, the reverse has been printed on the side of the leaf which should have presented the obverse, so that page 32 precedes 31.

nowned for punctuality as for talents, to have it ready against a particular day. When at length it was sent home, the only notice which the King took of the want of punctuality, was by telling the optician, goodhumouredly, that “ he had observed the day of the week and month accurately, he had only forgotten the year.”

Yet, with all the pretensions to popularity afforded by a life devoted to duty, and relieved only by such innocent amusements, George the Third, at the commencement of his reign, and for a long period after, was by no means popular. His character was respected, and his merits appreciated, by those who approached his person; but he was not a favourite of the people at large, to whom his merits were only known by report.

One of his first acts of royalty was to call to his administration a nobleman who had been his own tutor ; a person of worth and honour, a patron of literature and the arts, but not possessing political talents comparable to those of the celebrated Earl of Chatham, whom he succeeded in power. That daring minister had engaged the country, for no very adequate cause, in a bloody war with France, whom Britain had humbled in every part of the globe. The new minister made a peace so much inferior to the high-blown expectations of the country, that it seemed he had wilfully thrown away the advantages which had been gained so dearly; and the King's support of this unfortunate nobleman gave the utmost dissatisfaction to the country, and led the way to a spirit of mobbish license, which in British history had never been so directly levelled against the person of the monarch.


This cause of discontent, skilfully kept up by demagogues, did not by any means subside at the dismissal of the obnoxious servant of the crown. The breach between the King and his favourite is now well known to have been absolute, from the dissolution of the ministry ; they never afterwards saw each other, except in public, and then in the most formal manner, insomuch, that we are aware of Lord Bute having expressed with some vehemence his sense of the King's harshness, when his Majesty, on an occasion when his lordship appeared at court, did not even ask after the health of his lady, which was then in a precarious condition. Whether the King thought that Lord Bute had too early given way to the popular clamour, and in some degree deserted him, by giving in his resignation before it was required by the royal mandate, we do not pretend to decide. One thing is certain, that if his Majesty's breach with his late favourite had been made so total with the purpose of disarming the obloquy attending the connexion, (which we do not believe to have been the case,) the intended consequence was not attained. For several years afterwards, the watchword for discontent was, that ministers actually in office were merely puppets, and all was managed by Lord Bute behind the curtain. Such assertions served long to excite factious clamours against the King; while the ex-minister, with more reason, complained of the inexorable displeasure, which did not permit his Majesty to use even ordinary civility towards his early and faithful servant.

The disputes with the colonies, and the war which ensued, kept up and encouraged the spirit of public disaffection. This unhappy war might have a great colour of justice in theory; but in practice it was so ill conducted, and on the whole was so very impolitic, that all will now allow we had better have manumitted the Americans on their first exhibiting symptoms of discontent. But it is no less clear, that the King, in honour and conscience, deemed himself obliged to carry on the unhappy struggle to the very last ; and being in a remarkable degree the justus et tenax propositi of the moral poet, he would not consent to the dismemberment of his dominions until necessity absolutely compelled him to that sacrifice. His speech to Adams, envoy from the American States, after the peace, was singularly expressive of his character. The ambassador naturally felt that the first interview betwixt him and his late sovereign must be unpleasant; when the King at once relieved him of his painful feelings, by saying to him, with the utmost frankness, “Mr Adams, I was the last man to consent to the peace with America ; but that peace being made, I will be the first in my dominions to oppose any attempts which may be made to disturb its conditions.” Still the people of Britain only saw that an unsuccessful war had been carried on with pertinacity, until it was concluded by a peace, which was only short of being disgraceful; and remembering the victories of Chatham's administration under George the Second, were in proportion discontented with the ministers and measures, and even with the person, of their present Sovereign.

It might have been thought that the personal character of the monarch would have alleviated the strong censure arising from public misfortunes. But candour must admit, that, with the advantages which we have mentioned, George the Third laboured under some disadvantages, which for a long time obscured his highly estimable qualities. Notwithstanding what we have said of his personal qualities, his education had been narrow and confined in an unusual degree, and no adequate pains had been taken either to form his external manners, or to cultivate his mind in classical or polite literature.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »