« PreviousContinue »
when, at the age of twenty-three, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The influence of that great example was, however, not lost upon him. The brilliancy of so early a success was too strong for the sober retirement of Southampton Street and Paper Buildings. It fell upon Addington's path, as the transmitted light of political fame has fallen on many a lawstudent's path, before and since-like a disturbing rather than a cheering influence-one that made the gloom of the Temple still more intolerable by the contrast.
Pitt went out of office. Addington, meantime, entered Parliament as member for Devizes, under the auspices of his brotherin-law, Mr Sutton. The Coalition opposition became the Coalition ministry; and again receded to the opposition benches. Pitt, at the age of twenty-five, a second time Chancellor of the Exchequer, and for the first time chief minister of the crown, was waging an unequal war against the man who had once warmly hailed him as an ally, and carried him off in triumph to Brookes's. The Opposition presented a formidable front: Fox, North, Burke, and Conway, were even in their names terrible to a young minister. With the exception of the Grenvilles, Pitt had no suitable support. At such a juncture Addington entered Parliament, as his friends said, to help the minister; and as he probably himself hoped, to be protected by him. The Dean of Norwich, indeed, praises his modesty in not yielding to the 'attempts, even of his illustrious friend to excite in his mind a 'thirst for distinction.' We believe his illustrious friend' understood the character of the man too well to press distinction upon him, at least any distinction which involved great exertions and great intellect. The Dean tells us, indeed, that on one occasion, when the premier and his unforeseen competitor were riding down to Hollwood together, and Addington was modestly declining the struggle and the prize which his companion was anticipating for him, the latter burst out with some verses of Waller about the mounting lark : '—
The lark that shuns on lofty boughs to build
Singing she mounts: her airy notes are stretch'd
Towards heaven, as if from heaven alone her notes she fetch'd.'
But the Dean is, perhaps, not aware that Mr Pitt was notorious among his friends for his 'sly, dry humour.'
Since Addington had first entered Parliament, the relative power of parties had been changed; the coalitionists were unseated or enfeebled, and the assistance which Pitt dispensed with in 1784, must have seemed still more superfluous in 1786. But though he did not possess that mastery of will and language which is essential to one who would wield the turbulent elements of a popular assembly-though he wanted the stern stubbornness of self-relying energy-the eloquence which either fascinates or commands and that profound knowledge of political principles which often supplies the place of eloquence-he had certain attributes which eminently qualified him for filling the highest non-ministerial office in Parliament. He had a bonhommie which always pleased, even where it did not charm-a suavity of manner which was peculiarly insinuating; and the gift of patient diligence, which, when Englishmen meet together, day after day, to do business, is as certain of being appreciated and turned to good account, as either rhetoric or wit. To these mental qualifications, he added others of a physical kind, which, if not quite as necessary, a body of six hundred gentlemen will not the less rejoice to see personified in their president. Addington was a gentleman; and looked like one. His deportment was impressive, his countenance dignified, his address affable, and his delivery had that sort of formal sententiousness which a House of Commons might respect as not unbecoming in its Speaker, the depository of its own authority, but which it could not afterwards help laughing at in a prime minister, the representative of the executive, and leader of debate, amid the thrust and strife of words. In the year 1789 he was selected by Pitt for the chair of the house, on the resignation of Mr Grenville, who, after filling it for only five months, had accepted the seals of the Home Department.
At this time he was only thirty-two years of age, and, out of the House of Commons, utterly unknown; nor had his reputation there extended much beyond the committees. In a short time, however, he fully justified his patron's choice. He became very popular; and received the twofold compliment of a visit from the King in state, and a second copy of Greek verses from his friend Huntingford. Huntingford he afterwards made a Bishop; and with the King, who had lately been under the care of the Speaker's father, he laid the foundation of that intimacy which was destined to produce the most important consequences to himself and the country. Nor was his popularity in the House a mere barren homage. That assembly evinced its sense of his courtesy and diligence, by voting him a fixed salary of L.6000 ayear, instead of leaving him, like his predecessors, to a small income of L.1600, and the casual appendages of a sinecure.
The next eleven years were more eventful in the history of Europe than of Mr Addington. They witnessed the close of Warren Hastings's trial; the commencement of the French Revolution; the promulgation and the dread of French prin'ciples;' the rupture between Burke and Fox; the destruction of the old party landmarks; Burke's famous failure in the dagger-scene; the prosecution of hostilities with France; costly and unprofitable expeditions, partly redeemed upon the seas by brilliant engagements, like those of Howe, Jervis, and Duncan, or gallant actions, like Nelson's and Pellew's; the partition of Poland, at once imprudent and unjust; old alliances broken and shattered; and the governments of the Continent shaken by the genius of revolutionary France. Never had Europe seen eleven such years of convulsion and dismay; never had England known eleven such years of exertion abroad and difficulty at home. In the dead leaves of one revolution were germinating the fruits of another. The expense, the heartburning, and the rankling dissatisfaction of the American war, were followed by another war, more oppressive in its burdens, and more unsatisfactory in its results. Marvellous achievements were from time to time performed by our admirals and our captains. Nelson at Bastia, Sidney Smith at Toulon, Pellew, (the father of the Dean of Norwich,) in the first action of the war, all maintained the honour of the British flag with signal valour and success. But these triumphs were occasional and far between. They came after much endurance and long expectation; and, when they did come, national pride, however flattered by them, could not magnify them into equivalents for the discomfiture of our land forces, and the embarrassment of our domestic administration. The victory off Camperdown was but a moderate set-off against the mutiny of the Nore; that of St Vincent against the Bank panic; and the battle of the Nile against the Irish rebellion. Never, perhaps, within the same number of years, had the debates in the House of Commons been fiercer. Never had questions of greater constitutional or diplomatic importance been contested. From the question of the Regency to that of the peace-from the suspension of the habeas corpus to the union of Great Britain and Ireland-every topic was of vital moment to the liberties of Englishmen and the independence of England. Although Burke's political career terminated a few years after the election of Addington_to_the chair, yet besides the minister himself, there remained Fox, Sheridan, Windham, the ardent ambition of Canning, and the youthful promise of Grey.
Over such men and such discussions it was Addington's duty to preside; and the unanimity which secured his re-election at the commencement of each new Parliament shows that he presided well. This must have been the happiest period of his life. Looking down from his dignified elevation on the stormy sea that raged before him, he was unscathed by the fury of the tempest, and the violence of the combatants. An offer, which now for the first time we learn Pitt made to him in 1793, of the home secretaryship, he wisely declined. His official duties, though they left him little leisure for London society, yet brought him into contact with the most illustrious men of the day. Speaker, he received the last indignant letter of Burke, on the acquittal of Hastings. As Speaker, he conveyed the thanks of the house to Lords Gardner and Nelson; and as Speaker, the bond between himself and Pitt, which was at first loose enough, became tighter and tighter, each successive session. When he escaped from Parliament, his time was spent at Woodley, near Reading. There Pitt was not unfrequently his guest; and their principal correspondence took place, as was to be expected, during these vacations.
That which has been already seen in Pitt's letters to his other friends may be here seen again, in his letters to Addington, and in Addington's notices of him. Pitt did not understand the French Revolution; nor foresee its consequences. He did not understand the mind and purpose of its new government. did not appreciate its resources, its courage, or its ambition. He made no allowance for the vigorous rebound of a whole people, suddenly set free from the pressure of a despotic monarchy, and from the prescriptive insolence of unequal laws. He thought of France only as it had been under the Regency, or in the latter days of Louis XIV.-arrogantly feeble and prematurely exhausted. He did not gauge the military capacity and the military energies of the French People. He did not judge aright their animosity against England. But most espe
cially did he misunderstand and overrate the reliance to be placed upon our continental allies, and the worth of their cooperation.
In a letter to Addington, of October 1795, he says he is confident that the line we talked over will bring us speedily 'to a prosperous issue' and ends by assuring him that if the budget, which he is to open before Christmas, 'goes off 'tolerably well, it will give us peace before Easter? Lord Malmesbury, too, who ought to have known better, speaks repeatedly of the French now feeling the necessity of peace;'
while Lord Grenville lays down the status ante bellum as the only admissible base of a treaty-just as if the Alps and the Apennines were still insurmountable, and Austria still ruled over Flanders and Brabant. The negotiation, however, which the former of these statesmen had,' according to Burke, 'gone all the way on his knees to arrange,' was hastily broken off; after an interchange of long notes and impracticable proposals—the return to the status ante bellum being significantly declared contrary to the constitution of France. Lord Malmesbury posted back from Paris, about the same time that Hoche's fleet sailed from Brest. Notwithstanding this failure, Pitt dispatched him a second time to conduct a new negotiation at Lille, which, though begun with better prospects, was as unfortunate in its issue and as humiliating as that of Paris.
By this time, however, a new enemy was in the field-more terrible than the young conqueror of Genoa and Mantua-Ireland was in rebellion! A domestic war was added to the weight of that which we were sustaining single-handed abroad. These increased dangers made increased defences necessary and Pitt brought forward his War Budget. The assessed taxes were trebled but, as twice three does not always make six in finance, so the tripling of an impost which produced L.2,000,000, might not raise the amount to L.6,000,000; and Addington, coming to the rescue, suggested a species of voluntary assessment. His advice was followed, and the war in some measure provided for by private subscription. But this was found to be an unsatisfactory and unjust mode of taxation. Large sums were flung down in the first instance by men whose fortunes were unequal to a repetition of such liberality. When we mention that Lord Kenyon, Mr Pitt, and the Speaker, each subscribed L.2000 a-year, it will be easy to see how burdensome, and eventually how intolerable, such an impost must have been. It yielded a considerable sum the first year; but is now chiefly memorable for its failure, which gave rise to the Income-tax.
But triple assessments and voluntary contributions were not all that was required of England in 1798. The fate of the Continent now filled all men with apprehensions. The kingdom of Holland had ceased to exist. Italy was parcelled out into new republics and new dependencies. The invasion of Ireland had been attempted. England had already been threatened, and might be invaded next. A military spirit seized the whole nation. Volunteers were rapidly armed in several counties. The Speaker accepted the command of a troop of cavalry raised