Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

before and after the peace in the most vulgar and indecent manner in lampoons, pictures, verse and prose, vile suggestions of an intrigue with the Princess of Wales, King George's mother, and perpetual abuse of the Scots. He appears to have been a thoroughly honest and capable gentleman, averse to politics, and only holding office at all to save the King from being thrown back under the heel of the great Whig nobles, resigning for fear lest by his unpopularity with them he should injure the King. So great was their fear and hatred of him that throughout the reign he is credited in their memoranda, letters and diaries with all kinds of underground conspiracies against their factions, of which there is not the remotest tittle of evidence. Of John Stuart, Earl of Bute, writes the unfriendly editor of the Letters of King George III. to Lord North, nearly all that is transmitted to us rests on supposition. Bute, writes Lord Chesterfield, one of the most honourable of the politicians, had honour, honesty, and good intentions. “He is a very unfit man to be Prime Minister of England,” says Bishop Warburton ; "first, he is a Scotchman; secondly, he is the King's friend ; and thirdly, he is an honest man.” One who was a frequent guest of says

of him: “I never knew a man with whom one could be so long tête-à-tête without being tired as Lord Bute. His knowledge was so extensive, and consequently his conversation so varied, that one thought oneself in the company of several persons with the advantage of being sure of an even temper in a man whose goodness, politeness and attention were never wanting towards those who lived with him.” “To obtain an honourable and lasting peace, to establish a pure government on a firm basis, and at the same time to strengthen the Royal Prerogative by rendering the Sovereign independent of party faction, constituted the primary objects of Bute's ministerial policy,” is Jesse's summary. (Reign of George III., i., p. 133.)

We turn now to the young King whom he trained, whose true character has been wholly obscured by the vulgar abuse, ignorance and prejudice of the Whig historians, from Macaulay upwards, who have written of his reign.*

his

This is the kind of stuff which is being taught in the twentieth century to the boys at our public schools : " His education had been inadequate ; his English was ungrammatical, his spelling inaccurate, and his stock of general knowledge somewhat slender. Moreover, he had been brought up in great seclusion by his German mother, and suffered from an inability to see anyPART III_THE REVOLT AGAINST AUTHORITY

CHAPTER IX

AUTHORITY AND THE NEW THEORIES

i. Liberty and Equality. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 may be said to mark the end of an era. From this time the autocratic governments of Europe were openly on their defence against the wave of revolt which was spreading over the Western world against authority resting on a rule of force acknowledged for centuries as a system, and supported in the department of morals by the power of the Roman Church.

The British Islands, as usual, accepted this change of growth only in a modified form, resting on the historical tradition of the Common Law limiting the powers and position of King, Church and Parliament.

Everywhere the spirit of this movement which had been long in maturing, was showing itself by increased uneasiness of the populace under control. In July, 1753, Lady Mary writes : The confounding of all ranks and making a jest of order has long been growing in England : and I perceive by the books you sent me has made a very considerable progress. It has long been the endeavour of our English writers to represent people of quality as the vilest and silliest part of the nation, being (generally) very low-born themselves. I am not surprised at their propagating this doctrine : but I am much mistaken if this levelling principle does not one day or other break out in fatal consequences to the public.” Writing to General Conway on September 20th, 1766, King George III. says of the bread riots then going on : "The present risings are only an additional proof to me of the great licentiousness that has infused itself into all orders of men. If a due obedience to the law and the submitting to that, as the only just method of having grievances removed does not once more become the characteristic of this nation, we shall soon be no better than the savages of America.”

body's point of view but his own. Consequently he was ignorant and bigoted in his opinions, and self-confident and obstinate in upholding them," and the writer goes on to accuse him of “obstinately resisting measures which are now universally admitted to be good, and in supporting measures which are as universally admitted to be bad.” He does not specify the measures, but goes on to attribute to the king “ the loss of her American colonies, the failure to pacify Ireland, the delay in parliamentary reform, and the long continuance of the slave trade." This absurd tissue of falsehood is taken from a very prominent school history carried down to 1921.

But the causes which gave men food for thought in the eighteenth century had, like the corresponding movement of the eleventh century, affected both extremes of the social sense. Though the mobs, urged by the demagogues to despise authority, wallowed in licence, the better, saner minds, as they turned over the received beliefs, the accepted theories and facts based on them, approached the problems involved from a far higher standpoint of morality than their immediate predecessors. In Law's Serious Call, a protest against riches spent upon ourselves in vain and needless expenses, asserting that the whole object is to live for others and not for ourselves, he claims that "it is as necessary to give to seventy times seven, to live in the continual exercise of good works to the utmost of our power, as it is necessary to forgive until seventy times seven.” The theorists in their enthusiasm might build cloud-capped towers of fanciful society ; but the human desire which gave impetus to the movement was pure wish and hope for the betterment of man. The negation of material selfishness was, of course, carried to extremes, but to the best of the two extremes.

The new rulers, George III., 1760, in place of George II., Louis XVI., 1774, in place of Louis XV., Joseph II. of Austria, 1765, Charles III. of Spain, 1759, Gustavus III. of Sweden, 1771, William V. of Holland, 1766, affected by the prevailing tendencies of thought, were rulers of a type directly opposed to kings of the first half of the century. They were moral and sober men, consumed with the desire to raise their people, earnest reformers, imbued with a high sense of the responsibilities to which their position called them. How far they were successful, how far they failed in their endeavours, depended much on the historical surroundings from which they could not free themselves, on the direction taken by the nation or empire during the long centuries of its growth in the past.

The revolt against recognized authority, against the whole structure of human society as it had existed from immemorial time, covered every subject of thought and action. As is usual in all such fundamental reviews of human affairs, the theories of morality upon which (for the most part unconsciously), all social development rests and by which it is guided, had been revised during the preceding centuries in the great revolt against the authority of the Roman Church. The breach between incompatible doctrines remained; but they were no longer so prominent as subjects of fierce controversy. The churches concerned themselves with issues of morals rather than of theology ; the Roman Church, that most worldly-wise of all human institutions, putting disputed issues to one side, had set herself quietly to recover some of the ground lost at the Reformation, as well as to strengthen what she held : the great State institutions of the Protestant Churches, so far as they were not resting after the conflict, were engaged in the enforcement of their own authority. Horace Walpole, in France, writing of a leading archbishop, says : “He and many of his order did not disguise their contempt for their own religion. As the women who had most sway were freethinkers, a fashionable clergyman was by consequence an infidel."

But there were, as always, some, disowned by both sides, who could not reconcile the ever-present ills of humanity with their acceptance as part of a recognized Christian society ; in the countries on the Continent governed by the Roman law and the doctrines of the Roman Church these wild men abandoned, as being part of an evil system of living to be destroyed, the Christian dogmas, some of which had received dints in conflict with that ever-changing explanation of things seen, which is called science, for what was called natural religion; in England, fortunately for us, the corresponding wild men, Wesley and Whitefield and their followers, faced the most violent persecution as ascetic Methodist preachers within the Church so far as they were allowed, and always holding to the tenets of Christianity. But they preached a dreary doctrine of terror in the next world, and the denial of all pleasure in this. Little as their influence may have been on intellectual life; they had a great hold over the supremely ignorant class whom the Church had not reached, probably greatly lessening by their denunciation of sin and by depicting the terrors of the future life the influence of revolutionary ideas on the most dangerous elements of society.

For the rest the empiric took the place of the teacher of authorized conceptions in all forms of science, in politics, in commerce and agriculture. The turn-over of theories, forcing men to use their mental powers, coincided with a great revolution in methods of social industry, following on discoveries of new mechanical means for improving transport, machinery, the uses of metals, dyes and other arts. There was an immense development in commerce and agriculture.

Each of the Western continental kings was trying experiments in moderating the autocracy of personal government, pioneer work which was of necessity incomplete and always approaching the danger-point. In the East a reforming party of nobles in Poland meanwhile was trying to remake the impossible constitution, if their neighbours would permit of such an accession to the natural strength.

Into this whirlpool of confused theories, these cross currents of thought, disturbing the direct stream of European life with its sources far back in the past, were flung during the eighteenth century ideas strange to that generation, inconsistent with the existing state, and dangerous or beneficial according to the chance of their handling. Podiedonostzeff, the Russian Procurator of the Holy Synod and for many terrible years High Priest of Russian reaction, a man well acquainted with the destructive powers of dynamite, is reported to have said (New Tracts for the Times, by Henry W. Nevinson, 1910), dynamite is almost innocuous compared with the destructive force of a new idea. I do not say that these were new ideas : I doubt if such a thing exists, so far as it affects government; and the ideas which so deeply moved the eighteenth century, though their use was new to the people of that day, were based upon catchwords as old as humanity, worn and battered in a thousand wars of systems, theological, political, social, and industrial. These words, which had served the purposes of theological controversy in the sixteenth century, and had acted as leading suggestions for political events in the seventeenth, were the phrases : Liberty and Equality.

The lawyer philosophers of the eighteenth century, Montesquieu in his Esprit des Lois, and Blackstone in his Commentaries,

« AnteriorContinua »