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In 1753 Lord Bute was appointed to conduct the Prince's household. Mr. Wortley writes in 1756 to Lady Mary : “ It is supposed that my lord is his principal adviser. It is not easy to express how well-bred and reasonable the Prince always appears at his public levée and on all other occasions. He is supposed to know the true state of this country, and to have the best inclinations to do all in his power to make it flourish. The continuance of his favour is, I believe, wished by all that are unconnected with some of those who have been Ministers of State,” such as Horace Walpole and the cliques of whom he writes.
The Prince grew up under these influences to be a very hardworking, conscientious King. Having no knowledge of political affairs when he came to the throne, he set himself steadily to master the details of the departments. He was a good Latin scholar, and spoke Italian, French and German; he had a large store of miscellaneous knowledge and reading; he founded the library at Buckingham Palace, now in the British Museum ; and he cultivated agriculture, architecture, botany, the drama, music and painting, optics and astronomy. He founded the Royal Academy, of which Sir Joshua Reynolds was the first President; and he encouraged Captain Cook and others in exploration and discovery by sea. He recognized learning in such men as Dr. Johnson, Beattie the poet, and Dr. Hugh Blair. He encouraged religious toleration for Dissenters and, so far as prosecutions in religious matters went, for Roman Catholics ; but he unfortunately looked upon Catholic emancipation as a breach of his coronation oath, which, probably as a strong reaction from his predecessors, he was careful to observe.
As to the part taken by him in administration of affairs, he supervised the appointments made, especially the bestowal of posts for learning and religion. Instead of leaving clerical preferment in the hands of his (very frequently) immoral ministers, he took pains himself to examine into the characters of candidates. On March 10, 1771, he desires Lord North to consult the Chancellor of the University as to the appointments to University professorships of the most fit person, “because I think these offices, having been instituted for promoting learning in the Universities, ought not to be given by favour but according to merit.” On March 29, 1777, Lord North will give directions for having the presentations to the two livings prepared agreeable to the recommendations he has made. But although he freely expressed his wishes and opinions as to gifts of places, he did not insist on his own way, but gave way to his minister, or supported his wishes. (See Letters to Lord North, 348–51 and 364, 368, and see his Letters, Nos. 390–92, March and April, 1777.)
But when the matter in question was one for the legislature, King George as a truly constitutional sovereign as he was stood to one side. When the question of the Repeal of the Stamp Act came, the King very wisely did not wish to repeal, but that the Act should remain with such modifications as Parliament should judge to be necessary, undoubtedly the only safe and wise course to take. “But,” he said, “ when a measure was once before Parliament it must abide the decision of Parliament, he deeming it unconstitutional and improper in any way to interfere." (Grenville Papers, iï, 371.) To Lord North he writes in 1779: “From the hour of Lord North's so handsomely devoting himself on the retreat of the Duke of Grafton, I have never had a political thought which I have not communicated to him, have accepted of persons highly disagreeable to me because he thought they would be of advantage to his conducting public affairs, and have yielded to measures my own opinion did not quite approve." To Lord Thurlow, December 18, 1779, he writes : "I will never make my inclinations alone nor even my own opinions the sole rule of my conduct in public measures . . . I will at all times consult my ministers and place in them as entire confidence as the nature of this government can be supposed to require of me.” But in dealing with political events of serious import he would have appeared, as in the affair of the Stamp Act above, to have had better judgment than his ministers.
For the rest, he was very abstemious and very hard-working, a good judge of horses and a good rider, and a man of extreme courage. He was slow to change opinions carefully formed ; a vice according to some, but a virtue, even if carried far, in a king. In fact, he was a typical Englishman of the best kind, and we enjoy to-day the traditions of his virtues. George III. and his Queen gave offence to the Whig clique and their fashionable following by the studied simplicity of their lives, their morality, temperance and true religion, and care for their people. All those who came in contact with him, apart from the Whig politicians and their followers, spoke of the King in terms of the highest praise. I will quote one opinion only of a quasi enemy : Benjamin Franklin, writing during the London riots of May, 1768, says: “What the event will be God only knows. But some punishment seems preparing for a People who are ungratefully abusing the best Constitution and the best King any nation was ever blessed with.” (Grahame's History of the United States, Vol. 4, p. 453.)
Yet I am afraid that, judging by the bad character of his son, King George IV., King George III. carried his moral straightness too far, the reaction from the looseness of his predecessors provoking an appetite for reaction in his children. For instance, he forbade the playing at hazard at the Court on Twelfth Night, a custom leading to gambling in great sums of money. Picture to yourselves the horror at such a puritanical move of the young lovers of liberty among the Whigs. In 1772 there was a great debate in Parliament over a petition to dispense with the subscription by the clergy and others of the Thirty-nine Articles. The wiser members did not want to fish in the waters of stagnant theology. But Charles Fox, staunch upholder of the tests for a religious life, came up to vote for the rejection of the petition, insisting on subscription. The debate was on Thursday. Charles had sat up, playing hazard, from the evening of Tuesday to five in the afternoon on Wednesday, first winning £12,000 and ending by losing £11,000. The champion of orthodoxy, after defending the cause of religion, went to dinner at 11 o'clock, then drank at White's until 7 a.m., then to Almack's, where he won £6,000, and then to Newmarket. He and his brother in three nights lost £32,000. Walpole tells of play at Almack's for rouleaus of £50 only. There was generally £10,000 in specie on the table, borrowed from the Jews at great interest. No wonder they were opposed to the dull Puritanism of the King and Queen.
King George, as I have noticed above, has been steadily written down by the historians of the Whig minority of his reign, who have since the Reform Bill of 1832 rewritten English history in the interests of their party, until "his narrow and darkened mind” and all such stuff has become an accepted tradition of school history. So far as such fiction concerns only the internal affairs of the islands, it can be checked to a great extent by facts, by public documents and other authorities, and by the use of the common sense of the reader. But owing to an economic development, which dated back almost to the sixteenth century, the dispute between the Parliament of Great Britain and the Colonial population of America over their commercial relations, came to head after the Peace of Paris in 1763. The events which followed, the attempts to enforce the monopoly of British against American manufacture and trade, the proposals of the British Chancellors of the Exchequer to tax the colonists, the outbreaks of the colonial mobs, favoured and assisted by the Whig minority in Britain, and the resulting war and revolution, have been used by the English Whig writers as weapons against the kingship on the pretence that King George was responsible for these events.
While these men, on this account, exalt the American at the expense of the British, the American historians on their part have naturally spared no ink to blacken the character of the King and the British people, while painting in light and pleasing colours the actions of the American mob and of their friends, the English Whigs. As a result, an absurd travesty of the history of this period is taught on both sides of the ocean.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE IN THE WEST
1. The American Colonies and Monopoly of Trade.- I refer to Section II. of Chapter VI., supra, p. 100. Up to the middle of the eighteenth century this principle of monopoly was the universal rule of all European nations. It was not only asserted but accepted by the Colonies. But the assertion and acceptance had been for the most part negatived by the universal smuggling, which made illicit trade with other nations the normal state and the payment of duties the exception. The crisis had been certain to come sooner or later; it had been frequently prophesied by acute observers of the commercial conditions in various countries; it was aggravated by the long neglect to enforce the law by the distant government, and by the new theories of freedom of trade being advanced in France and elsewhere, and it was brought to a head by the necessities of the British ministers in their efforts to find money with which to pay for the late war. The only element of uncertainty lay in the possibility of such careful reconstruction or adaptation of the laws regulating commerce as would naturally satisfy the interests of the mother country and her colonists and delay the inevitable break between them.
The position was that the old country was trying, as were all other nations at that time, to govern her plantations on the well-recognized system of trade monopoly, by which manufactures of a colony were encouraged or prohibited as they benefited the parent European, or the reverse. Very few men, especially among the politicians, seemed to have discerned the change from this monopoly to freedom which was coming over the trade of the world, nor were they prepared to meet it, when it came upon them. But the danger of using force in the colonies to protect British manufacture had penetrated to some few minds. For instance, in the debate in 1756 in the House of Commons on certain resolutions on foreign linen yarns, Lord Strange, referring to the duties on the export of hats made of beaver skins, says: “Some of our own plantations in America had carried the manufacture to such a height that we were obliged to have recourse to a very dangerous regulation for putting a stop to it," i.e., 5 Geo. II., prohibiting the export of hats from the plantations. “This, Sir, I call a dangerous regulation, and I call it so because of the fatal effects that may, by such regulations, be at last produced ; for if the affection of our people in the plantations should ever be alienated from their mother country, it will be by such selfish and unnatural regulations as this.” “I must still look,” he says, “upon the people in our plantations, notwithstanding their great distance, as a part of ourselves. We should never, therefore, endeavour to prevent our own people in any part of the British dominions from carrying on any sort of manufacture ... by restraints."
It was this false view of monopoly of trade indulged in by all the economic authorities of the time which eventually