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successful industry of my grandfather raised him above the level of his immediate ancestors; he appears to have launched into various and extensive dealings : even his opinions were subordinate to his interest; and I find him in Flanders, clothing king William's troops, while he would have contracted with more pleasure, though not perhaps at a cheaper rate, for the service of king James. During his residence abroad, his concerns at home were managed by his mother Hester, an active and notable woman. Her second husband was a widower of the name of Acton : they united the children of their first nuptials. After his marriage with the daughter of Richard Acton, goldsmith in Leadenhall street, he gave his own sister to sir Whitmore Acton, of Aldenham; and I am thus connected, by a triple alliance, with that ancient and loyal family of Shropshire baronets. It consisted about that time of seven brothers, all of gigantic stature; one of whom, a pigmy of six feet two inches, confessed himself the last and the least of the seven ; adding, in the true spirit of party, that such men were not born since the revolution. Under the Tory administration of the four last years of queen Anne (1710–1714) Mr Edward Gibbon was appointed one of the commissioners of the customs; he sat at that board with Prior : but the merchant was better qualified for his station than the poet, since lord Bolingbroke has been heard to declare, that he had never conversed with a man who more clearly understood the commerce and finances of England. In the year 1716 he was elected one of the directors of the South Sea company; and his books exhibited the proof that, before his acceptance of this fatal office, he had acquired an independent fortune of sixty thousand pounds.
But his fortune was overwhelmed in the shipwreck of the year 20, and the labours of thirty years were blasted in a single day. Of the use or abuse of the South Sea scheme, of the guilt or innocence of my grandfather and his brother directors, I am nei
ther a competent nor a disinterested judge. Yet the equity of modern times must condemn the violent and arbitrary proceedings which would have disgraced the cause of justice, and would render injustice still more odious. No sooner had the nation awakened from its golden dream, than a popular and even a parliamentary clamour demanded their victims : but it was acknowledged on all sides, that the South Sea directors, however guilty, could not be touched by any known laws of the land. The speech of lord Molesworth, the author of The State of Denmark,' may shew the temper, or rather the intemperance, of the house of commons. Extraordinary crimes (exclaimed that ardent Whig) call aloud for extraordinary remedies. The Roman lawgivers had not foreseen the possible existence of a parricide ; but as soon as the first monster appeared, he was sown in a sack, and cast headlong into the river ; and I shall be content to inflict the same treatment on the authors of our present ruin." His motion was not literally adopted; but a bill of pains and penalties was introduced, a retro-active statute, to punish the offences which did not exist at the time they were committed. Such a pernicious violation of liberty and law can be excused only by the most imperious necessity; nor could it be defended on this occasion by the plea of impending danger or useful example. The legislature restrained the persons of the directors, imposed an exorbitant security for their appearance, and marked their characters with a previous note of ignominy: they were compelled to deliver, upon oath, the strict value of their estates; and were disabled from making any transfer or alienation of any part of their property. Against a bill of pains and penalties it is the common right of every subject to be heard by his counsel at the bar: they prayed to be heard; their prayer was refused;
and their oppressors, who required no evidence, would listen to no defence. It had been at first proposed that one-eighth of their respective estates
should be allowed for the future support of the directors; but it was speciously urged, that in the various shades of opulence and guilt such an unequal proportion would be too light for many, and for some might possibly be too heavy. The character and conduct of each man were separately weighed; but, instead of the calm solemnity of a judicial inquiry, the fortune and honour of three and thirty Englishmen were made the topic of hasty conversation, the spo of a lawless majority; and the basest member of the committee, by a malicious word or a silent vote, might indulge his general spleen or personal animosity. Injury was aggravated by insult, and insult was embittered by pleasantry. Allowances of twenty pounds, or one shilling, were facetiously moved. A vague report that a director had formerly been concerned in another project, by which some unknown persons had lost their money, was admitted as a proof of his actual guilt.
One man was ruined because he had dropped a foolish speech, that his horses should feed upon gold; another, because he was grown so proud, that one day at the treasury he had refused a civil answer to persons much above him. All were condemned, absent and unheard, in arbitrary fines and forfeitures, which swept away the greatest part of their substance. Such bold oppression can scarcely be shielded by the omnipotence of parliament: and yet it may be seriously questioned, whether the judges of the South Sea directors were the true and legal representatives of their country. The first parliament of George the first had been chosen (1715) for three years: the term had elapsed, their trust was expired; and the four additional years (1718–1722) during which they continued to sit, were derived not from the people, but from themselves; from the strong measure of the septennial bill, which can only be paralleled by il serar di consiglio of the Venetian history. Yet candour will own that to the same parliament every Englishman is deeply indebted: the septennial act, so vicious in its
origin, has been sanctioned by time, experience, and the national consent. Its first operation secured the house of Hanover on the throne, and its permanent influence maintains the peace and stability of govern. ment. As often as a repeal has been moved in the House of Commons, I have given in its defence a clear and consciencious vote.
My grandfather could not expect to be treated with more lenity than his companions. His Tory principles and connections rendered him obnoxious to the ruling powers : his name is reported in a suspicious secret; and his well-known abilities could not plead the excuse of ignorance or error. In the first proceedings against the South Sea directors, Mr Gibbon is one of the few who were taken into custody; and, in the final sentence, the measure of his fine proclaims him eminently guilty. The total estimate which he delivered on oath to the House of Commons amounted to 106,5431. 58. 6d. exclusive of antecedent settlements. Two different allowances of 15 and of 10,0001. were moved for Mr Gibbon ; but, on the question being put, it was carried without a division for the smaller
On these ruins, with the skill and credit of which parliament had not been able to despoil him, my grandfather at a mature age erected the edifice of a new fortune: the labours of sixteen years were amply rewarded; and I have reason to believe that the second structure was not much inferior to the first. He had realized a very considerable property in Sussex, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, and the New River Company; and had acquired a spacious house, ** with gardens and lands, at Putney in Surry, where he resided in decent hospitality. He died in December 1736, at the age of seventy; and by his last will, at the expense of Edward, his only son, (with whose marriage he was not perfectly reconciled,) enriched
* Since inhabited by Mr Wood, sir John Shelley, the duke of Norfolk, &c. S.
his two daughters, Catherine and Hester. The former became the wife of Mr Edward Elliston ; their daughter and heiress, Catherine, was married in the year 1756, to Edward Eliot, esq. (now lord Eliot) of Port Eliot in the county of Cornwall; and their three sons are my nearest male relations on the father's side. A life of devotion and celibacy was the choice of my aunt, Mrs Hester Gibbon, who, at the age of eighty-five, still resides in a hermitage at Cliffe in Northamptonshire; having long survived her spiritual guide and faithful companion, Mr William Law, who, at an advanced age, about the year 1761, died in her house. In our family he had left the reputation of a worthy and pious man, who believed all that he professed, and practised all that he enjoined. The character of a non-juror, which he maintained to the last, is a sufficient evidence of his principles in church and state; and the sacrifice of interest to conscience will be always respectable. His theological writings, which our domestic connection has tempted me to peruse, preserve an imperfect sort of life, and I can pronounce with more confidence and knowledge on the merits of the author. His last compositions are darkly tinctured by the incomprehensible visions of Jacob Behmen; and his discourse on the absolute unlawfulness of stage-entertainments is sometimes quoted for a ridiculous intemperance of sentiment and language.
-“ The actors and spectators must all be damned; the playhouse is the porch of Hell, the place of the Devil's abode, where he holds his filthy court of evil spirits: a play is the Devil's triumph, a sacrifice performed to his glory, as much as in the heathen temples of Bacchus or Venus," &c. &c. But these sallies of religious phrensy must not extinguish the praise which is due to Mr William Law as a wit and and a scholar. His argument on topics of less absurdity is specious and acute, his manner is lively, his style forcible and clear; and had not his vigorous mind been clouded by enthusiasm, he might be ranked with the