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GEORGE THE FOURTH.
[From 1810 to 1820.]
THE year 1810 was big with the fate of the royal family of England. In the month of May the public mind was intensely agitated by an attempt, on the part of a domestic of the name of Sellis, to assassinate the Duke of Cumberland in his apartments at St. James', and which was bruited forth to the public as one of the most diabolical acts on record. The public, at the time, sympathized with the royal Duke, and wondered what so good, so exemplary, so virtuous a man could have done to arouse the vengeance of the cold-blooded assassin. Fortunately for the country, the life of so valuable a Prince was spared; and the public were informed, that as the murderer had not succeeded in his infernal attempt on the Duke, he considered that the most advisable act he could commit was to murder himself. The form of a coroner's inquest was gone through, and a verdict of felo de se passed upon the guilty suicide, and he was buried at the corner of Scotland Yard.
We are fully aware of the sentiments which at this time time pervade the public mind on the death of Sellis, but as the investigation of the truth or falsity of those sentiments has no bearing upon the life or actions of the immediate subject of these memoirs, we shall decline entering upon it. It is at best unbecoming the character of a Briton to prejudge, and is it highly derogatory to the patriot sense of loyalty, to promulgate opinions in prejudice to facts, which may be said to form the only true and just criterion of human action. Every man by the Constitution is declared innocent till he is pronounced guilty, and until facts themselves, incontrovertible and unimpeachable, absolutely and unquestionably prove the guilt, no
one, legally or morally possesses the right of condemnation, much less the infliction of positive punishment.
It has not fallen to our lot, in the progress of this work, frequently to pass an eulogium on the actions of royalty. Kings are beings very different from other men; their sensations are of another kind; their exemptions from the general lot of hardships in some degree attending all other situations, make them strangers to commiseration and sensibility; the pleasures of friendship are exchanged for those of flattery and obsequiousness; the nature of their education is calculated to destroy all natural disposition—at least the effects are the same as if it were a part of the plan; they begin so early to live by rules of art, that they are in masquerade the whole of their lives; whether their design be to oblige or offend, they are equally under the necessity of employing artifice. There is no other rank in life that can be so generally defined, because there is no order of men who are framed so much alike, and have such a sameness in so many respects.
It is said that in one of the royal cabinets on the Continent, the names of all the patriot kings or demi-gods, who have reigned since the commencement of history, are written in the circumference of a silver penny, and that there is still a vacancy for more. Although George IV. will not find a place there, we have some hope that the next will be William IV. of England.
The traveller who has been plodding his weary way through the dark gloom and solitude of the forest, feels his heart cheered and spirits enlivened, when at a distance he beholds the faint glimmerings of light, the harbinger of brighter scenes and purer, substantial joys; so the historian, who has been depicting the tragic scenes of human life, emanating from the turbulence of passion or deep-rooted vice, feels himself relieved as if from some oppressive burden, when some spotless and fairy object comes before him, in which he can trace the purer virtues of the Christian character, even if that object appears but for the moment, and then vanishes for ever.
There is a tie of the human heart in which is concentred all that ennobles its nature-all that gives a charm to social life; the founder and the preserver of domestic happiness. It is the love of the parent for the child, the love of the child for the
parent; but when the hour arrives in which that tie is to be for ever broken for this world, then the heart grows sick, reason staggers on its throne, and falls, perhaps never to be revived. In the contemplation of the latter scene, we would not breathe a whisper that should disturb the awful solemnity of the spectacle-a father, whose reason has fled over the grave of a much-loved child, is a sacred being; he carries with him a passport through the world, to the sympathy and compassion of every feeling heart; and in that character we must now view the afflicted George III. The death of his youngest daughter Amelia, which took place at Windsor, on the 2nd of November, 1810, broke the last hold of his already tottering reason, and removed him, as it were, into a world of his own, peopled by his own creations, but desolate, dark, and dreary to all by whom he was surrounded.
The character of the Princess Amelia shines amidst the vices of royalty with a redeeming light; and the contrast is the greater, as the occurrence is so rare. Dignified, though condescending benevolent, without ostentation-lively, though a prey to sickness, which usually quenches the spirits, as well as the health of youth—she was beloved by all who lived within the sphere of hearing of her virtues. In performing the duties of humanity and benevolence, she was indefatigable; and the grateful sympathy with which all her acts of this nature were performed was not less soothing and gratifying than the actual tribute of her kindness. In the relations of domestic life, nothing could exceed her attention, assiduity, and affection. The last act of her filial tenderness evinced that it was not in the power of sickness, severely as it operated on her, to lessen the amiable temper of her mind; for, languid as she was at some periods, and tortured by pain at others, a desire of testifying her affection for the best of fathers was one of the strongest feelings of her heart. She wished to present her royal father with a token of her filial duty and affection; and she had the satisfaction of placing on his finger a ring made by her own directions for the express purpose, containing a small lock of her hair, inclosed under a crystal tablet, set round with a few sparks of diamonds, accompanied by the impressive words-Remember me. This scene proved
too much for the agitated monarch, already weakened by many severe trials; and the indisposition, both bodily and mental, which ensued, involved the nation in sorrow, and rendered it necessary that Parliament should turn its attention to the subject of a regency.
We shall enter, minutely and fully, into the history of this most interesting and important event, whether we regard it in its origin, nature, or consequences, in order that it may be transmitted to posterity with all that regularity and precision which so momentous a circumstance deserves and demands.
At the close of the year 1810, it was generally known that the exercise of the royal functions was suspended, by a recurrence of that malady with which his Majesty had been afflicted in 1788.
Although his Majesty had prorogued the parliament to the 1st day of November, 1810, it was understood and well known that this was not the period intended for the commencement of business, but that a further prorogation was determined on, of which, indeed, notice had been given in the Gazette. This, however, could only be effected by a commission signed by the King; and when the moment arrived, his Majesty was so much indisposed as to be unable to affix his signature; accordingly, exertions were made to obtain as large an attendance as possible in both houses. On the meeting of the House of Lords, the Lord Chancellor stated, with great concern, that the personal indisposition of his Majesty was such at the present time, that he did not think it his duty, under the circumstances, to proffer to his Sovereign a commission to receive the sign manual; and he concluded by moving that the House, at its rising, should adjourn to the 15th day of November.
The House of Commons was, on the same day, placed in the unprecedented situation of proceeding to business, although an official notice of a prorogation had been given; but no commission having been signed for that purpose, the Speaker was obliged to take the chair. A similar motion for adjournment to that made in the House of Lords was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, being seconded by Mr. Sheridan, the motion was carried.
On the 15th the two Houses met, pursuant to the adjournment, when a motion was made for a further adjournment to the 29th, which motion, after some slight objections from the Opposition, was ultimately carried. On the question of the second adjournment, Mr. Sheridan, however, to the utter surprise of his own party, turned round and voted with the majority. Mr. Sheridan was known at that time to be the organ of the Prince in the House, and deductions were drawn from the conduct of Sheridan, in regard to the temper and views of the Prince with respect to the regency. As an interesting document, which will prepare our readers for the sequel of this important business, we transcribe a letter written at this period by Sheridan to the Prince of Wales; and it having cost us much trouble to obtain, we regret that we have been anticipated in the publication of it by the biographer of Sheridan.
'SIR, I felt infinite satisfaction when I was apprized that your Royal Highness had been far from disapproving the line of conduct I had presumed to pursue on the last question of adjournment in the House of Commons. Indeed, I never had a moment's doubt but that your Royal Highness would give me credit that I was actuated in that, as I shall be on every other occasion through my existence, by no possible motive but the most unmixed and sincere desire to look to your Royal Highness' honour and true interest as the objects of my political life-directed, as I am sure your efforts will ever be, to the essential interests of the country and the constitution. To this line of conduct I am prompted by every motive of personal gratitude, and confirmed by every opportunity which peculiar circumstances and long experience have afforded me, of judging of your heart and understanding, to the superior excellence of which (beyond all, I believe, that ever stood in your rank and high relation to society) I fear not to advance my humble testimony*, because I
The passage printed in Italics is particularly deserving of notice, as, ere long, it will be seen that the same individual who now boasted of the superior excellence of the royal heart was left to languish out a miserable existence, surrounded by duns and bailiffs, forgotten and neglected by those whom he had served to the destruction of his own character and resources. If ever there was a life which ought to be held forth as a warning voice to those who rely on the smiles and protestations of royalty, that life is the life of Sheridan. A drop of oil, it is true, was sent when the lamp was nearly out; but the lateness of the gift, added to its