Page images
PDF
EPUB

with the security of the Constitution; that the members of the great families were beginning to enlist in large numbers in the army, not only in time of war, but also as a permanent profession in time of peace; and that the erection of barracks, which twenty years before would have ruined any minister who proposed it, was now accepted without serious protest, or even with popular applause. Still the old feeling of distrust was not wholly extinct. The scheme of fortification proposed by the younger Pitt, in 1786, was rejected on the ground that it would render necessary and would provide accommodation for a larger standing army; and in 1792, when a barrack department was instituted for the purpose of erecting barracks throughout the country, a considerable opposition was shown to the scheme. Fox and Grey, as the representatives of the Whigs, vehemently denounced it in the beginning of 1793, maintaining, like Pelham, Pulteney, and Blackstone, that the erection of barracks was menacing and unconstitutional, and that the dangers of a standing army could only be averted if the soldiers were closely mixed with the populace.3

6

1 What I lament is to see the sentiments of the nation so amazingly reconciled to the prospect of having a far more numerous body of regular troops kept up after the peace than any true lover of his country in former times thought could be allowed without endangering the Constitution. Nay, so unaccountably fond are we become of the military plan, that the erection of barracks, which twenty years ago would have ruined any minister who should have ventured to propose it, may be proposed safely by our own ministers now-a-days, and upon trial be found to be a favourite measure

with our patriots and with the public in general. . . . What I lament, as the greatest misfortune that can threaten the public liberty, is to see the eagerness with which our nobility, born to be the guardians of the Constitution against prerogative, solicit the badge of military subjection, not merely to serve their country in times of danger, which would be commendable, but in expectation of being continued soldiers when tranquillity shall be restored.'-Letter to Two Great Men (Newcastle and Pitt), p. 35.

2 Clode.

Parl. Hist. xxx. 474-496.

CHAPTER IV.

I SHALL conclude this volume with a brief sketch of the leading intellectual and social changes of the period we have been examining which have not fallen within the scope of the preceding narrative. In the higher forms of intellect if we omit the best works of Pope and Swift, who belong chiefly to the reign of Anne, the reigns of George I. and George II. were, on the whole, not prolific, but the influence of the press was great and growing, though periodical writing was far less brilliant than in the preceding period. Among other writers, Fielding, Lyttleton, and Chesterfield occasionally contributed to it. The 'Craftsman' especially, though now utterly neglected, is said to have once attained a circulation of 10,000, was believed to have eclipsed the 'Spectator,' and undoubtedly contributed largely to the downfall of Walpole. Though set up by Bolingbroke and Pulteney, it was edited by an obscure and disreputable writer named Amhurst, who devoted nearly twenty years to the service of the faction, but who was utterly neglected by them in the compromise of 1742. He died of a broken heart, and owed his grave to the charity of a bookseller. We have already seen the large sum which Walpole, though in general wholly indifferent to literary merit, bestowed upon the Government press, and its writers were also occasionally rewarded by Government patronage. Thus Trenchard, the author of Cato's Letters,' obtained the post of commissioner of wine-licences' from Walpole; and Concannon, another ministerial writer, was made Attorney-General of Jamaica by Newcastle. In 1724 there were three daily and five weekly papers printed in London, as well as ten which appeared three times a week.' The

[ocr errors]

'Andrew's Hist. of British Journalism, i. p. 129.

number steadily increased, and a provincial press gradually grew up. The first trace of newspapers outside London is in the time of the Commonwealth, when the contending armies carried with them printing presses for the purpose of issuing reports of their proceedings; but the first regular provincial papers appear to have been created in the last decade of the seventeenth century, and by the middle of the eighteenth century almost every important provincial town had its local organ. Political caricatures, which were probably Italian in their origin,' came into fashion in England during the South Sea panic. Caricatures on cards, which were for a time exceedingly popular, were invented by George Townshend, in 1756.2 As the century advanced the political importance of the press became very apparent. Newspapers,' said a writer in the Gentleman's

6

Magazine' of 1731, are of late so multiplied as to render it impossible, unless a man makes it his business, to consult them all. Upon calculating the number of newspapers it is found that (besides divers written accounts) no less than 200 half-sheets per month are thrown from the press, only in London, and about as many printed elsewhere in the three kingdoms; . . . so that they are become the chief channels of amusement and intelligence.'3 The people of Great Britain,' said Mr. Danvers in 1738, are governed by a power that never was heard of as a supreme authority in any age or country before. . . . It is the government of the press. The stuff which our weekly newspapers are filled with, is received with greater reverence than Acts of Parliament, and the sentiments of one of these scribblers have more weight with the multitude than the opinion of the best

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

somebody that will make me a caricature of Lady Masham, describing her covered with running sores and ulcers, that I may send it to the Queen to give her a right idea of her new favourite?' (p. 122).

2 Walpole's Memoirs of George II. ii. 228.

Advertisement to the first num. ber of the Gentleman's Magazine.

6

politician in the kingdom.'' 'No species of literary men,' wrote Dr. Johnson in 1758, has lately been so much multiplied as the writers of news. Not many years ago the nation was content with one Gazette, but now we have not only in the metropolis, papers of every morning and every evening, but almost every large town has its weekly historian.'2 One of the consequences of the complete subjection of literary men to the booksellers was the creation of magazines, which afforded a more certain and rapid remuneration than books, and gave many writers a scanty and precarious subsistence. The Gentleman's Magazine' appeared in 1731. It was speedily followed by its rival, the London Magazine;' and in 1750 there were eight periodicals of this kind. In the middle of the eighteenth century also, literary reviews began in England. In 1752 there were three-the Literary,' the Critical,' and the Monthly.' Under George II. an additional tax of d. had been imposed on newspapers, and an additional duty of a shilling on advertisements; but the demand for this form of literature was so great that these impositions do not appear to have seriously checked it.3 The essay writers had made it their great object as much as possible to popularise and diffuse knowledge, and to bring down every question to a level with the capacities of the idlest reader; and without any great change in education, any display of extraordinary genius, or any real enthusiasm for knowledge, the circle of intelligence was slowly enlarged. The progress was probably even greater among women than among men. Swift, in one of his latest letters, noticed the great improvement which had taken place during his lifetime in the education and in the writing of ladies; and it is to this period that some of the best female correspondence in our literature belongs.

1 Parl. Hist. x. 448.

2 The Idler, No. 30.

See, on the History of Newspapers, Chalmers' Life of Ruddiman. Nichols' Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, vol. iv. Hunt's Fourth Estate. Andrews' Hist. of

British Journalism. Madden's Hist. of Irish Periodical Literature. Wright's England under the House of Hanover.

551.

Mrs. Delany's Correspondence, i.

The prevailing coarseness, however, of fashionable life and sentiment was but little mitigated. The writings of Swift, Defoe, Fielding, Coventry, and Smollett are sufficient to illustrate the great difference which in this respect separated, the first half of the eighteenth century from our own day, and unlike Anne, the first two Hanoverian sovereigns did nothing to improve the prevailing tone. Each king lived publicly with mistresses, and the immorality of their Courts. was accompanied by nothing of that refinement or grace which has often cast a softening veil over much deeper and more general corruption. On this subject the vivid and undoubtedly authentic picture of the Court of George II. which is furnished by Lord Hervey enables us to speak with much confidence. Few figures in the history of the time are more worthy of study than that shrewd and coarse-minded Queen, who by such infinite adroitness, and by such amazing condescensions, succeeded in obtaining insensibly a complete command over the mind of her husband, and a powerful influence over the politics of England. Living herself a life of unsullied virtue, discharging under circumstances of peculiar difficulty the duties of a wife with the most exemplary patience and diligence, exercising her great influence in Church and State with singular wisdom, patriotism, and benevolence, she passed through life jesting on the vices of her husband and of his ministers with the coarseness of a trooper, receiving from her husband the earliest and fullest accounts of every new love affair in which he was engaged, and prepared to welcome each new mistress, provided only she could herself keep the first place in his judgment and in his confidence. The character of their relation remained unbroken to the end. No stranger death scene was ever painted than that of Caroline,'

The Queen had always wished the King to marry again. 'She had often said so when he was present and when he was not present, and when she was in health, and gave it now, as her advice to him when she

was dying; upon which his sobs began to rise, and his tears to fall with double vehemence. Whilst in the midst of this passion, wiping his eyes and sobbing between every word, with much ado he got out this

« PreviousContinue »