« PreviousContinue »
SOUNDNESS OF THE BRITISH SYSTEM
views in their widest extent ; shared his apprehensions to the fullest; and devoted all his energies to the task of beating France to her knees, that revolution might not rear its crest at home. Alison has explained for us the motives which really animated Pitt's government. “The passions,” he says, “were excited ; democratic ambition was awakened; the desire of power, under the
, name of reform, was rapidly gaining ground among the middle ranks, and the institutions of the country were threatened with an overthrow as violent as that which had recently taken place in the French Monarchy. In these circumstances the only mode of checking the evil was by engaging in a foreign contest, by drawing off the ardent spirits into active service, and in lieu of the modern desire for innovation, rousing the ancient gallantry of the British people.” That is, Pitt plunged the country into a long and costly war in order that rotten boroughs might still flourish, and the middle class be prevented from a free expression of opinion. Yet there was no real ground for alarm. The nation was thoroughly loyal. A few so-called Jacobin Societies flourished, but they numbered only some odd thousands of members, and included no men of special mark or influence. Thomas Paine had published his “Rights of Man,' but no large body of the English people contemplated or desired a subversion of the social system. The religious world of England was disgusted by the Atheistic follies of the French Revolutionists; the philosophers and social reformers, by their cruelties, their theatrical parade, and their violent intolerance. The Throne and the Church were equally safe.
Volunteers THE BALLADS OF THE STREETS.
came forward with the utmost promptitude; neither the army, navy, nor militia showed any signs of disaffection. In truth, to hold the Revolutionary doctrines was to incur unpopularity. At Birmingham the mob sacked the house of Dr. Priestly, because he was a reformer in politics, and in religion a heretic. Loyal societies were formed in every town, and by their writings and publications identified patriotism with the most enthusiastic loyalty. The streets echoed with the sounds of loyal ballads, appealing to John Bull's national pride, and calling on him to stand by the Church, the King, and the laws. Such compositions as Dibdin's NinetyThree,' and the anonymous · Word to the Wise, circulated by thousands. Why need Government have condescended to panic when the heart of the people readily responded to strains, Tyrtean in their patriotism though not in their poetic merit, like the following ?
“ Our women are virtuous, our women are fair,
“ Then let's be united, and know when we're well,
Nor believe all the lies these Republicans tell.
“Our soldiers and sailors will answer these sparks,
Though they threaten Dumourier shall spit us like larks;
“Ye Britons, be wise, as you're brave and humane,
You then will be happy without any Paine,
DIBDIN'S “ NINETY-THREE."
Or take a verse or two of Dibdin's popular effusion :
“Al true honest Britons, I pray you draw near ;
Let the year Ninety-three
In famed Ninety-three,
We'll convince them we're free!
Thus in famed Ninety-three,
Britons all shall agree, While with one heart and voice in loud chorus they sing, To improve. Ça ira' into 'God save the King !'” The fulness and force with which the current of English thought and feeling ran against the Revolution are shown by the utter powerlessness of the Opposition for several years; so that it was jestingly said that its members might all have been held in one hackney coach.* They seldom formed a minority of greater
* “I heard old George Byng say, at the dinner given to him to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his having sat for Middlesex, alluding to those times, ' It has been asserted that the Whigs could all have been held in one hackney coach. This is a calumny. We should have filled two.'”. LORD CAMPBELL, 'Lives of the Lord Chancellors,' v. 614.
LORD. GRENVILLE'S SAGACITY.
strength than half-a-hundred. These facts show that Pitt had no excuse for the repressive policy upon which he entered. We can understand that the novel phenomena of the French Revolution might excite his apprehension; but they afforded him no justification for involving the country in repressive and retrograde domestic legislation.
In November, 1792, we find Lord Grenville, who was then Foreign Secretary, writing to his brother in a strain of statesmanlike moderation and prudence: “All my ambition is that I may, at some time hereafter, when I am freed from all active concern in such a scene as this, have the inexpressible satisfaction of being able to look back upon it, and to tell myself that I have contributed to keep my own country at least a little longer from sharing in all the evils of every sort that surround us. I am more and more convinced that this can only be done by keeping wholly and entirely aloof, and by watching much at home, but doing very little indeed : endeavouring to rouse up in the country a real determination to stand by the Constitution when it is attacked, as it most infallibly will be if these things go on; and, above all, trying to make the situation of the lower orders among us as good as it can be made. In this view, I have seen, with the greatest satisfaction, the steps taken in different parts of the country for increasing wages, which I hold to be a point of absolute necessity, and of a hundred times more importance than all that the most doing government could do in twenty years towards keeping the country quiet.”
PITT AS A WAR MINISTER.
In less than three months from this date, Lewis the 16th was guillotined (January 21st). The French Ambassador was immediately ordered to quit England; and on the 1st of February the French Government declared war against England and Holland. Pitt showed no want of vigour in the efforts he made to carry on a successful campaign. Tenthousand troops were despatched to Holland, under the Duke of York. A combined naval and military expedition was organised to assist the insurgent royalists at Toulon. Our fleets were active in every sea. As a War Minister, the general impression is that Pitt conspicuously failed; and though Lord Stanhope undertakes an elaborate defence, we do not think he succeeds in overthrowing the verdict at which History had arrived. He seems to think it enough to show that Pitt strove with unremitting toil by day and night; that in his plans he consulted the most skilful officers at his command; that in his diplomacy he laboured to build up new coalitions when the old had crumbled away, and for that object poured forth subsidies with a liberal, nay, a lavish hand; that he sought to strike the enemy whenever or wherever any vulnerable point lay bare, -on the northern frontier in concert with the Austrian armies, on the southern coast when Toulon had risen, on the western coast when a Royalist insurrection had broken out in La Vendée,—and he thinks it hard that, having striven as far as a civilian could strive for the success of our arms both by land and sea, the reverses on the former should be cast upon his memory, whilst at the same time he is allowed no merit for our triumphs on the latter. But a Minister's war policy, like his peace