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Memoirs of a Trait in the Character of George III. of these United Kingdoms/Appendix 9

No. 9.

ANECDOTES OF GEORGE IV., WHEN PRINCE OF WALES.




That the prevalent idea among mankind, which supposes Kings are surrounded with flatterers ever ready to magnify even indifferent actions, which would not be noticed in common life, is often wholIy unfounded, at least in this country, the distinct and decided example we have given in these memoirs will show.—To an exposition based upon the clearest facts in the case of his Father, we are enabled to add some particulars of George lV. equally unknown, but which the general voice would certainly desire should be rescued from oblivion—that they are so, was owing to the same concurrence of fortuitous incidents which, sixty years after John Harrison's petition was laid before Parliament, disclosed the philanthropic and unwearied interest his Sovereign had taken in procuring him redress for the violation of the legislative pledge. To the circumstance of the Author having been in habits of intimacy with the persons introduced (till separated by change of residence to distant parts of the kingdom) was owing their being now brought forward, as an appropriate addition, he thinks, to "A Trait in the Character of George III."

On the first meeting of the House of Commons, June 29th, 1830, after the demise of George lV., Sir Robert Peel coming forward in his official character, paid a well deserved tribute to the memory of the deceased Monarch. "The late King," said the honourable Baronet, "was an admirable gentleman, and a liberal patron of the arts. His heart always sympathized with any appeal to his benevolence.—(Hear, hear, hear, and great cheering.)—I do not wish, Sir, to deliver any overstrained panegyric on his late Majesty; his acts speak for themselves."—That these praises were not words of course, the weight of which would not bear being sifted to the bottom, the following illustrative facts will show.

Mr. Edmund Scott was an engraver of respectable abilities, well known as such formerly in the metropolis, but subsequently a crayon painter, resident at Guildford in Surry. He was a man of strict sobriety and regular habits, but having a large family, and not being Remunerated in proportion to his labours, he got into pecuniary difficulties, was arrested and in confinement:—when the Prince of Wales heard of his situation, and through the intervention of a military gentleman[1] his royal highness discharged the debt. After which rightly judging that the properest course, if he would extend his benevolence, was to employ the artist professionally, he set him to take a portrait of his Princess—a fact directly at variance with the general, if not the universal belief, that mutual disgust, and a separation from bed and board took place almost immediately after their nuptials.—If so, that the bridegroom shortly after should have employed an artist to take the likeness of his partner, cannot be reconciled to—is indeed quite incompatible with ordinary notions in such concerns, for no man separated from his wife under such circumstances ever thinks of introducing a painter with such an object. How can he be supposed to contemplate the production of art with pleasure, if the original, from whatever causes is wholly an alien to his satisfaction? How, we ask, is a difficulty to be got over, directly opposed to historical credence?[2] for it leads to the inference that the royal pair differed little from other young couples during the probation called the honey-moon.—It is certain that from this portrait, a whole length, the joint production of Edmund Scott,[3] and of Mr. Stothard, the academiccian, a print was taken; which the Author has seen, and which decided his own persuasion on the subject: but in a case surrounded with so much novelty, indecision becomes a merit towards the public, and a bonus to the numerous writers who would complain of having incurred an awkward erratum, "by following rumour with her hundred tongues."

Changing the scene, we bring forward Mr. Charles Sheriff, born at Edinburgh, in 1755, being the second son of an eminent merchant in that city. Having lost his hearing when only three years old, it had all the consequences of being born deaf; and he continued in the state incident to that misfortune till about the age of eleven, when a circumstance very material to his future destiny occurred.

Mr. Braidwood, the enterprizing schoolmaster of the northern capital, had at this time matured his scheme for educating those under this privation, and it happened remarkably enough, our subject was his first pupil. From what is thought little better than a state of idiotism, he was brought to understand the language—to write letters conforming to orthography and grammar; and to speak so as to be understood in the family, and by his intimates. He could not, as has been related of some individuals, converse by observing the motion of the lips in the speaker, but otherwise his facility of apprehension was extraordinary; for if a person opposite wrote rapidly in the air with his finger, Mr. Charles could read such writing although reversed and evanescent, as the Author has frequently witnessed. Having early employed himself in sketching with the blacklead pencil, and painting being designated as his future profession, he was placed with a drawing master in London, named Burgess; under whom, his works of that period show his progress to have been rapid; insomuch that it was proposed, though rather prematurely, to take him to Italy, the common rendezvous of artists and connoisseurs from every country. All his bright prospects, however, were soon overclouded by a storm that burst with a calamitous pressure on the whole family. The failure of Fordyce, an eminent banker at Edinburgh in that day, drew after it the insolvency of many mercantile men, and among others, Mr. Sheriff's father: but who, being favoured by Providence, when be thought himself irretrievably ruined, found an unexpected resource in the abilities of our artist, whose filial piety wanted no stimulant, and he immediately commenced business in London, as a miniature painter—and this most exemplary son and brother, whom his connexions once apprehended would prove a burden to them, supported his parent and the junior part of the family, consisting of two sons and two daughters, in a creditable manner, as long as his assistance was essential to their welfare. Both his sisters were respectably married to Officers of the Navy. His brothers chose the sea, and the younger of them, Lieutenant John Sherrif, rose to the command of L'Espugle sloop of war, in which he lost his life while gallantly repulsing the crew of a French privateer which had boarded her in the West Indies.

To enhance the merit of this virtuous conduct in the young man, it should be observed, that the example of his elder brother was wholly wanting; who, although he had been a material cause of their father's failure, with whom he was in partnership at the time, not only contributed nothing to the common support, but had even the assurance to expect his brother would assist him.—The pressure of these dependants was a serious obstacle to Mr. Sheriff's acquiring a fortune by his talents; and although he was of a domestic turn, and partial to the sex, his situation precluded him from marrying. Yet he never complained of such hardships (as they might be called;) on the contrary, the Author has heard him express the pleasure he found in being so useful to his father and the family.

Mr. Sheriff's uncommon character and merit having reached Carlton House, the Prince sent for, and honoured him by sitting for his portrait, a large miniature, which being admired in the exhibition at Somerset House, increased his custom. If this was in the usual course of things, yet an accidental occasion his highness availed himself of, showed an intimate knowledge of the human heart. It touched those chords which (except in the misanthrope) harmonize with the desire all feel to be esteemed by others, which less disposes them to quarrel with themselves. Mr. Sheriff happened one evening to be amongst the lookers on at the principal assembly in Brighton; certainly without the most distant thought of joining a set formed either of the nobility, or persons of the first fashion and fortune. His illustrious patron was there, and, coming up, accosted him with his usual affability; enquiring after his health, his professional success, and—asking why he did not dance?—The artist being thus taken by surprise, scarcely knew what he said, but it purported that he had no right to mix with company so much above him. The Prince, over-ruling his diffidence, introduced him, as a partner, to a lady of quality. With whom Mr. Charles, who probably excelled in the dance,[4] as he was admired in fencing, tripped it till the assembly was over.—That nothing might be wanting to enhance a notice so flattering, his partner set him down at his lodgings from her carriage:—and the assembly was long remembered by our subject; but for obvious reasons he avoided showing himself there again.[5] It is proper to add to this anecdote, that Mr. Sheriff (from whom the Author had it) was, a man of fine presence, tall and of a graceful demeanour, so that any lady might have waived the difference of rank, on being taken out by so genteel a figure.[6]

While Sir Robert Peel was attempting a portrait of George lV. in the House of Commons, his grace, the Duke of Wellington, on the same date, drew attention to a sketch of the same subject in the Upper House of Parliament; an outline from which certifies us that—"no man ever approached his Majesty who did not feel gratified by his learning,[7] his condescension, affability, and kindness of disposition."—With a high opinion of his Majesty's kindness and condescension, the Author was impressed by the circumstances above related: the knowledge of which, he has said, he owed to his intimacy with the parties concerned. Private friendship indeed may occasionally lead to the contemplation of particulars of curiosity and interest unknown to the public collector.—The first of the attributes in the preceding short extract, immediately assimilated with the recollection of a lamented friend, the reverend Thomas Watson, of Bilton, in Holderness, to whom he could resort on any literary question, and at whose parsonage he passed some of the pleasantest hours of his life. This Gentleman one day, in a conversation on the identity of the author of the "Pursuits of Literature," gave it in a decided manner to the Prince of Wales; alleging that "he was well known to be one of the best scholars we had." It is not the writer's idea, so many reasons may be given against the supposition, which might be overlooked by a retired observer; but that a man of letters (a good classic) should entertain and defend this belief he thought too honourable to the memory of George IV., and too confirmatory of the Duke of Wellington's assertion, to be omitted on the present occasion.[8]—Mr. Watson, who had not been introduced at Carlton House, must have formed this conclusion from his intercourse with some of his learned contemporaries.[9] Among others, he was intimate with the poet Mason, whom he had known at Cambridge, and who was at Bilton six weeks before his death.


Notes

  1. According to the Artist's Son, this was Lieutenant Colonel Huxley Sandon.
  2. Neither was this circumstance a solitary exception to the current belief which supposes the match was forced on the heir apparent and wholly contrary to his inclination: for Mr. Jefferys, of Picadilly, who furnished the jewellery ordered in consequence of the marriage, and was a principal creditor of his royal highness, having published a pamphlet on account of some dispute with the Commissioners appointed to settle the Princes affairs: incidentally informs us—that at the period of the proposed nuptials of the Prince of Wales with his Cousin, the Princess Caroline of Brunswic, he passed much of his time at Carlton House; and though it is at such complete variance with the generally received opinion, he continues—'I declare it to be my firm belief, however subsequent events, which may be truly termed unfortunate for his Royal Highness and for the country, may contradict the probability of my assertion, that no person in the kingdom appeared to feel, and I believe at the time did actually feel, more sincere pleasure in the prospect of the proposed marriage and the consequent separation from Mrs. Fitzherbert than his Royal Highness.'
  3. The family reside chiefly at Brighton. His eldest Son (who can testify to the facts related) is of respectable abilities as a landscape painter, in water colours.
  4. This may surprise those who do not reflect that dancing consists of a certain number of measured movements; so that if such a person keeps time with a partner, who has a correct ear, his own auricular deficiency will not be easily observed.
  5. He certainly had not a glimpse of a failing imputed in no measured terms to the Prince Regent, by the following article: '—there was in him not only the pride of the Monarch, but the pride of the man; even in his moments of condescension, when he attempted to throw off the king and sink into the man, ever and anon glimmered forth some sparklings of the ruling passion, which threw a reserve and a coldness over his society.'
  6. After the death of his father, at the advanced age of eighty-four, whose wants were carefully attended to, and whose grey hairs descended with comfort to the grave, in having such a son, Mr. Sheriff embarked for India, a scheme he had contemplated many years antecedent, but was deterred from by his amiable solicitude for his relatives, as has been described.—It maybe mentioned, that while in that region, among those who encouraged his abilities by employing his pencil was, Sir Arthur Wellesley, now the great captain of the age.—Having realized moderate competency, our Artist re-embarked for England. He married, bought a house and settled in Cumberland Place, on the Padington Road. The remainder of his life he was happy in the quiet he coveted, and in the attentions of his wife (whom he had known from a child.) He died a few years ago, leaving a memory dear in the esteem of those that knew him well; which perhaps this brief account may extend. The circumstance of this gentleman having been the first boy on whom Mr. Braidwood tried a mode of instruction adapted to the very peculiar situation of those forlorn beings;[subnote 1] its success, and the diffusion of the advantages among the higher and the middle classes of society, as well as the increase of charitable foundations for extending the benefit of it to the indigent:—above all, the future man doing so much honour to the species as was seen in the active habits, the filial piety and fraternal affection of Mr. Sheriff[subnote 2] ought to rescue these particulars from the various transitory occurrences in "the busy hum of men."
  7. From his classical studies we have an admired translation of the Epistle from Servius Sulpicius to Cicero, on the death of his daughter Tullia.
  8. In accordance with his Grace of Wellington's observation, and with the remarkable opinion of the learned individual just mentioned, we give the ensuing extract from the Address of the President, the Bishop of Salisbury, to the Royal Society of Literature, at their anniversary meeting, April 28th, 1831. [Given from the Supplement to the Gentleman's Magazine. Part 1st for that year.]

    Adverting to the loss which the Society had sustained in the decease of its munificent founder and patron, King George IV., he took occasion to enumerate some of the more important services rendered by the deceased Monarch to the cause of Literature.

    His Majesty's attention to the interests of Literature and sound learning,—an attention called forth by the genuine bias of his cultivated taste and classical accomplishments—was evinced as early as the year 1706, by his donation of two gold and two silver medals to the scholars of Winchester; the former for the best English composition, the latter for the encouragement of eloquence.

    The King was a contributor to the building of St. David's College; and this benefit to the interests of Religion and Learning was subsequently augmented by some valuable endowments bestowed upon that Institution.

    That meritorious charity, the Literary Fund, has, at various times, largely partaken of the munificence of the late Sovereign.

    It was by his Majesty's order, that the work "De Doctrina Christiana," &c., discovered in the State Paper Office, in 1823, and ascribed (though, in Lordship's opinion, erroneously) to Miiton, was translated and published.

    In the same year, George IV. further merited the title of a Benefactor to Literature, by giving to the nation the valuable and extensive Library which had been collected by his Royal Father.

    One of the earliest proofs given by the King of his cultivated taste and love of antient learning, was shown in the Literary Mission to the Court of Naples, for the more rapid development and transcription of the Herculanean Manuscripts—a Mission equally honourable to the country from which it emanated, and the accomplished Prince who promoted it, and successful, beyond what is generally known, in its results.[subnote 3]

  9. Another opinion of this Gentleman's, which may be given for its curiosity, if not entitled to the notice of the historian; was that, on seeing it currently circulated, how the Prince of Wales associated with the leading members of the opposition, he would not allow it to be deduced as a fair inference, that the Prince concurred in opinion with Mr. Fox on public measures. "It is" said he "the policy of the Brunswic Family, for one of their number always to mix with the party out of place, to learn the plans, views and questions, discussed among them." He then instanced Duke William of Cumberland, the conqueror at Culloden, who was long remarked for being opposed to the Cabinet—and Frederic, Prince of Wales, seemed to have a predilection for those who were not in power.—It may be said, there was no occasion to doubt the Duke's sincerity, if he appeared inimical to the Pelham, or the Bute administrations; and Prince Frederic (according to Lord Orford) was so much at variance with his Father and Queen Caroline, that the supposed policy of the step does not seem conclusive.—It is certain, after all, that George IV. on succeeding to power, would not accept the resignation of Mr. Percival, but told him to prosecute his plans, which were based on those of the Pitt administration, in distinction from the ideas and purposes of Mr. Fox, to whose politics he had long been supposed partial: so that this sequel may be allowed to coincide with Mr. Watson's assumption. The transition from this Monarch's encouragement of learning to the munificent contribution, herewith specified, is insensible. A writer not otherwise partial to the memory of George IV.,[subnote 4] launches out thus:—
    perhaps there is no one [action] which imparts a greater lustre to the character of George IV. as the patron of genius, than his munificent gift towards the erection of a monument to the memory of James Watt. The incident may appear at the first view as trifling in itself; but a meeting called for the purpose of the erection of a monument to a great benefactor of the human race, is worthy of the most civilized nations.[subnote 5] Such meetings should be held forth as examples to other countries, to awaken amongst those who approach nearest to civilization and generous emulation of true glory and just gratitude. Such meetings impart a new value to the discoveries and the productions of genius; they excite youthful talents to redouble their efforts in order to produce works that may be useful to their country, and worthy, in their turn, of immortality. On Friday the 18th of June, 1824, a public meeting was held, at which the Earl of Liverpool presided, supported by such men as Brougham, Mackintosh and Wilberforce, for the purpose of entering into a subscription to defray the expenses of the erection of a monument to the memory of the Father of the Steam Engine. The first words uttered by the Prime Minister of the British Empire, surrounded by the most distinguished personages of the Government and the country, either by their learning or their eloquence, were to announce that the meeting was called for the purpose of offering a public tribute of gratitude and respect to the memory of the best and most extraordinary man to whom the country had ever given birth. We confess [says the author of the work quoted] that such an eulogium is rather exaggerated, especially in a country that has produced a Newton; for we can speak from personal experience that, in society, James Watt was a most repellent character, and appeared to treat every man with contempt and indifference who could not converse on pistons, cylinders and boilers.[subnote 6] In other respects, the speech of Lord Liverpool was such as might have been expected from so great and enlightened a mind; and he concluded his speech by observing, that his Majesty George IV. had charged him to inform the meeting, that he was deeply sensible of the services that had been rendered to Great Britain by him, "to whose memory we are about as I informed you at first, to offer the tribute of our respect and gratitude. His Majesty is anxiously desirous of having his name placed at the head of the proposed subscription for the sum of five hundred pounds."'[subnote 7]



Subnotes

  1. In the biography of Mr. Baker, a distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society, and founder of the Bakerian lecture, it is mentioned that in the former part of his life he educated some pupils of this description; but whether the priority of date was with this gentleman, or Mr. Braidwood, we cannot say: neither are we acquainted with the date of the successful labours of the celebrated Abbe Sicard, at Paris.
  2. There are some verses in print, by Caleb Whitefore, a member of the Literary Club, and one of the commissioners employed at Paris, to conclude the treaty of peace with France and Spain, in 1763. The want of a copy precludes their insertion here. They are entitled "Lines supposed to be from the mouth of Charles Sheriff, who is deaf and dumb, on seeing Garrick in Lear." To which may be added, that this eminent Actor, whom he had probably pleased by taking off some part in dumb show, said, that if it had not been for his deprivation, he would have excelled on the boards. Altogether, he appears to have attracted the attention of the distinguished man in his time.
  3. It is much to be regretted, however, that the learned have been hitherto disappointed, in hoping to recover, from this source, the lost books of Livy.
  4. In a work published by Kelly in Paternoster Row. But the Author Is so irregular in his judgment, that, in speaking of lawyers, for instance, he calls them, without exception, human sharks. Not considering that there is the same diversity of good and bad among them as among other men.
  5. Granted—but why was no meeting ever called, in this civilized nation, to perpetuate the memory of the first discover of the longitude? the benefit he conferred on mankind was without alloy: whereas, from the multiplied extension of the steam engine, such a necessary of life, as coals, will eventually become, though neither our children, nor our children's children, to the third or fourth generation, may live to see it, of exorbitant price, and beyond the reach of the poor.
  6. Such a statement, from personal knowledge, argues a surprising contrast between James Watt and John Harrison: for the latter was not deficient in good manners, and showed not contempt for those who could neither talk on chronometry, nor music.
  7. The writer of the above, who dates in 1830, six years after the meeting, professes not to know where the proposed monument is (to which George IV. subscribed so liberally) nor yet where the funeral obsequies of James Watt took place. He glances at Garrick, whose ashes repose in the Abbey, though he conferred no lasting benefit on his country. But waiving this, will any assiduous friend to the memory of the Earl of Liverpool, Sir James Mackintosh, or Mr. Wilberforce, &c., inform us on what ground a marked distinction may be said to be upheld between "the father of modern chronometry" and "the father of the steam-engine," or, more properly of the application of it: for they all knew the principle might be referred to the Marquis of Worcester in the seventeenth century.—And will Lord Brougham be so good as to inform us by what ratiocination the genius of this eminent Engineer entitled him to apotheosis beyond certain other aspirants to that honour, as far as it could be granted on earth?—The merit of James Watt most certainly was very great—but it should be acknowledged in accordance with that of his compeers; a Jenner, a Davy, and a Harrison, were severally, or "in quaternion" with him, entitled to the consideration of the assemblage: and while we would not interfere with the special purpose of the meeting, we yet are persuaded it should not have been attempted to allot him a consequence so transcendent as to throw into the shade all other benefactors to mankind.