« PreviousContinue »
fetched from the Magpie and Stump. If an affidavit has to be filed, the document cannot be executed without all the parties to it 'liquoring-up;' and if a party of gentlemen sit down to a bottle or two' of wine at a coffee-house, the bottle or two' resolve themselves into a bottle or six.' It is extremely noticeable also, that not the slightest disgrace seems to attach to anybody for getting tipsy. In these days, a gentleman who takes too much wine-say at a Temple
call-party,' or on the Derby-day-is more or less ashamed of himself the next morning; but when Mr. Pickwick, becoming intoxicated at a picnic, is found in a state of insensibility by Captain Boldwig and his gardener, and is put into a wheelbarrow and trundled to the village pound, where he recovers consciousness under the stimulus of rotten eggs and cabbage-stumps flung at him by the mob, he is only amicably 'chaffed' by his friends, and not the slightest shame appears to be felt by any party to the transaction. Thus also the madcap frolics of Mr. Sawyer and Mr. Allen in the post-chaise during their journey from Bristol to Birmingham—frolics which in our times would call for the interference of the police, and inspire the writers of sensational leaders in the penny papers to tremendous outbursts of virtuous indignation—are looked upon in Pickwick as thoroughly every-day occurrences; and equally as a matter of course does the author take the drunken episodes of the Eatanswill election, —an election which, in this pure and upright age, would lead to a grave judicial inquiry, and a blue-book as heavy as a cartload of bricks.
When I come to look at the costumes of the characters depicted in Pickwick, I find not change, but revolution. The hero himself, in his kerseymere smalls, shirt-frill, and black gaiters; Mr. Perker at ten o'clock in the morning in knee-breeches, silk stockings, and pumps; the elder Weller and any number of stage-coachmen rolling about the streets in top-boots, knee-cords, and broad-brimmed hats with low crowns; Messrs. Winkle and Snodgrass venturing into the streets arrayed in grass-green coats and cloaks with 'poodle collars,' —all these people fill me with amazement; but the amazement is diminished when I remember that revolutions in our national dress take place every decade ; and that as great a change, perhaps, has taken place between the costume of this year and of ten years since, as between that of 1836 and 1870. It should be noted, however, that there is not a personage in Pickwick who wears a moustache, and that from the beginning to the end of the work not a single reference is made to the existence of such an institution as a Westend club, or to any house of entertainment in London, at least) approaching what we should term nowadays a first-class hotel. Mr. Pickwick, a gentleman of considerable wealth and entire leisure, resides, in the outset, in mean lodgings in Goswell-street; and his landlady is the widow of an exciseman who lost his life by being knocked over the head with a quart-pot in a cellar. After Mr. Pickwick leaves Mrs. Bardell's, he puts up' at the George and Vulture. In these days he would patronise the Langham or the CharingCross; or at least the Tavistock or the British. A maiden lady of independent means elopes in a post-chaise with a strolling player who was introduced to her at a review; and her abductor conveys her to an inn in the Borough, whence he repairs to Doctors' Commons for a license. With notice so brief as Mr. Jingle gave, he could no more in these days procure a marriage-license in Doctors' Commons, or anywhere else (without committing gross and wilful perjury), than he could procure a death-warrant to re-decapitate the late King Charles I.
To oldsters—to those who remember the time, and know how faithfully the gifted chronicler has described it-Pickwick appears a perfectly natural and normal book. You, I, and our friend Fogey have a perfect recollection of the George and Vulture, the George and Blue Boar, the Black Bull, the Saracen's Head on Snow-hill, the Crown and Anchor, the Angel in the Strand, and the Thatched House in St. James's-street. To the present generation the names of those erst famous hostelries may appear as the vaguest and dimmest of shadows. We remember the Fleet Prison, and the Fair,' and the Painted Ground,' and the Poor-side.' What have those bygone dens of despair to do with the Ludgate terminus of the London Chatham and Dover Railway, and Messrs. Spiers and Pond's luncheon-bar? The old Bench,' the Marshalsea, the Insolvent Court in Portugal-street, the old Golden Cross at Charing, Lyons-inn, the Bath mail, the Hampstead stage, the yellow cabriolets with a perch for the driver at the side—are all to us definite and tangible entities. But what significance can they possess, what associations can they recall, to the schoolboy gloating his whole half-holiday through over Pickwick, or to the just-fledged lad from Oxford lounging in the library of the Senior Carlton ? Well, Don Quixote reads with a like freshness to young and old, does it not? The Knight and his Squire live and breathe, and are deathless, although the book was written more than two hundred years ago. And Tom Jones? Does Squire Western's wig make him obsolete? Have Sophy's powder and hooppetticoat made her rococo? And the Journey to Brundusium ; cannot we appreciate it, even in the midst of the roar and rattle of the Brighton express ? There are people who — like the face of the Queen on the postage-stamps-never grow older. They are eternal; for they are the children of Genius; and it matters little if the Portrait of Mr. Pickwick were surmounted by a towering periwig, or encircled by an Elizabethan ruff, or draped in a Roman toga : it would still be one of those portraits which break Time's heart, and make Death gnaw his bony digits in despair.
Few errors seem stranger, yet commoner, than a certain prevalent error concerning the revenues which uphold the dignity of the Crown of England. Statesmen, or others who manage those revenues, or students of constitutional history, inform themselves necessarily on the subject. But does not one oftentimes hear it asserted, even in educated circles, that the Queen and royal family, being the recipients of fixed salaries from the national purse, contract thence the obligation to discharge the duties of royalty, precisely in the same manner as judges, generals, and ordinary officials receiving government pay, undertake each the duties of their several offices ? And if any better-educated listener venture to deny the parallel, is not the correction usually met with a smile of incredulity, to say the least ? Passing strange it seems, in a country where publicity becomes the fate, often the courted fate, of all things governmental — where private acts cast their privacy when they touch public interests —where a competent knowledge of political affairs knocks at the door of the humblest member of the community—that a topic of general interest like the Crown lands and their actual adaptation should be so seldom understood, or rather so universally misunderstood.
Doubtless, upon the sovereign of these realms the burdens of constitutional royalty do devolve in all fulness. Noblesse oblige, and, by stronger reason, royauté. Constitutionally also, it cannot but be evident that, failing the working of the principle of British royalty, the right to the British Crown must lapse from whomsoever its holder. Still, as such an eventuation would only change the sum and mode of maintenance of the ex-sovereign and family, or confiscate the source of income accidental to their governing, and not alienate their substance from them, it falls equally beyond dispute that the generic term 'salary,' with corresponding duties attached, cannot apply to the grants, either regular or exceptional, which for so many generations our Parliament has voted to our reigning family. Brief, the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland stands bound to fulfil her regal office solely because she is queen, and not, according to the vulgar error, on account of salary received; the farther truth being, that, so far from really receiving a salary, she contributes more money to the Treasury by cession of the Crown lands than the nation returns to her by parliamentary grants. A capitulation of the historical facts will effectually put out of court any doubt upon the question.
In these days an English sovereign is enabled to support the honour and dignity of the Crown by the help of those parliamentary votes which, at the outset of each reign, secure a stipulated lifeannuity to the new king or queen, together with promise of adequate provision for royal consorts, royal children, their consorts, and their children to come. Although this constitutional practice has obtained, despite its ephemeral character, during an elongated period of English history, and will probably become perpetual, it was not always so amongst us. Neither should those grants of our Parliament be confounded with apparently similar grants of foreign legislative bodies. The difference is very material, and lies in that the French, to take an example, set apart in their annual budget what amounts to an impromptu subsidy from France towards the domestic wants of its Emperor; whereas we English simply transact from year to year the details of a composition, the essentials of which have previously been effected between our queen and ourselves. What brought about that composition ? How does it work? The whole subject of the Crown lands resolves itself into an answer to this twofold query.
While overlooking historically the personalty of the English sovereigns, one needs to bear three leading points in mind : first, that it consisted in its origin chiefly of lands, which were the private though entailed property of the sovereign, and to which other regal rights merely came in aid, more rights increasing as the wants of the age increased and as the lands of the Crown diminished; secondly, that the sovereign, thus aided by the nation, used to be therefore chargeable with its outgoing of every description—a rule which, howsoever modified in successive reigns, only fell completely into disuse under the present reign ; thirdly, that, notwithstanding the indisputable personal right of the royal family to the Crown lands, never at any epoch did the nation entirely fail to claim some sort of voice in their control, but, on the contrary, having regard to the circumstances under which those royalties were acquired, advanced it the more as time unfolded our constitution, until the moot-point finally settled down into an act of legal compromise.
The old common law of Europe held that all the land of a kingdom belonged by origin or by seisin to the Crown, either to give away or to spend its proceeds, and, in those ages, almost irresponsibly. Hence, when the Norman conquerors came over, they succeeded to the hereditary lands reserved as royal by their Saxon predecessors, and also to immense tracts either forfeited by the conquered nobility, or which had till then remained personally unbestowed, or which hitherto had been suffered to serve as public commonage and moorage. There were ceded to them, be all the royal prerogatives usual at that period—such as the profits of purveyance (what they could make by the trade of governing), fines upon leases and licenses, fees, excise and customs, first-fruits and tithes, not to mention escheats or forfeitures to the Crown in cases of war or crime. Receiving all, however, the sovereign had to pay all, and to sustain the whole expense of government. Such at least was the theory. Practically, it long amounted to little more than supporting the royal household. For instance, the king, in his quality of feudal chief, commanded the service of his vassals, each with a body of retainers equipped and kept at the sole cost of their immediate lord. To phrase it in a homely way, our early Norman kings were uncommonly well off. The nation might have its claims to being heard in advice. As a fact, either it had yet to learn how to call that claim out of abeyance, or the sovereign was still strong enough to resist every control upon his expenditure.* Times changed. The royal lands constituting the only fund on which succeeding kings could draw to reward or satisfy their adherents, so much had those alienations frittered away, so prodigious had been the waste of the once ample demesnes of the Crown, that at length King Henry III. is found complaining of his inability to provision his own table. † The remedy of a wrongful resumption of granted lands, unjust confiscations, and other methods fraught with confusion and misery, were tried by that king and by several of his successors, in order to amend their impecuniosity, to retrieve their indiscreet prodigality, and enable them to make the two ends meet.'But the repetition of plans which scarcely cured a transient evil was certain to be repudiated as feudalism waned and our constitution began to grow. It required the thrift and exacting spirit of King Henry VII. to repair the losses to the English Crown of former years. King Henry VIII. again embroiled the Crown worse than ever. Notwithstanding his wholesale plundering, roundly computed at over 30,000,0001. sterling, he left the royal treasury empty; and, what was worse, those whom he had enriched by the spoliation took care to hold fast to their new possessions. The revenue coming in to King James I. hardly touched 70,0001. a-year, whilst that monarch's debt at one time exceeded 1,000,0001. When King Charles I. could no longer obtain subsidies from parliament, he sold or mortgaged the Crown lands right and left. And when, afterwards, Parliament itself disposed of the rest of the royal estates, they fetched barely sufficient to pay the outstanding debts of the revolutionary government. At the Restoration most of the Crown lands were recovered. Nevertheless their squandering and dispersion recommenced. ||
King Charles II. actually reduced by one-half the income accruable to him from land; but to his reign also one turns for the first precedent of a surrender on the part of the sovereign of some of his hereditary revenues. Our history teems with records of national
* St. John's Observations on the Land Revenues of the Crown. + Erskine May's Const. Hist. vol. i. c. 4.
Knight's Hist. of England, vol. ii. pp. 166-7. $ Scobell, part ii. pp. 51, 227. 11 Clarendon, iii. 131 ; Pepys's Diary, 1666. ( 12 Car. II. c. 24.