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Memoirs of a Trait in the Character of George III. of these United Kingdoms/Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI.


Thus after having been piloted, to the best of the Author's endeavours, through a channel safe enough in his belief, as it exhibits proper marks and authentic bearings, the reader is landed in the pleasant conclusion—that for the realizing £8750 of this moiety in nubilus John Harrison was primarily indebted to a friend in need, who, as the proverbial rhyme has it, was "a friend indeed:"—for it is not often that men experience such beneficial services from their equals in private life as are here recorded of the Sovereign's disinterested friendship for a man of genius, whom he highly respected, and the hardship of whose case he commiserated. Few persons even of the most exemplary character are found willing to incur so much inconvenience as must at times have resulted from the resolution the King took at Windsor, in the preceding year. But George 3rd consonant to Lord North's averment on a quite different occasion,[1] "would have lived on bread and water," had there been no other way to redeem his pledge: and many a poor fellow who has been buffeted in the world—whom fortune has dealt unkindly by, who is more conversant with her frowns than her smiles, will, with a sigh acknowledge the value of such an active and consistent friend.[2] That the unprincipled satirist, Wolcot, or Peter Pindar, should have got his bread by the quarto catchpenny scurrility so often levelled at this ornament to the House of Brunswic, while an action so much to be admired, drifts unheeded "down the stream of time" is a caustic inuendo on those titled, or privileged, functionaries of the Court, whose discernment was unequal to the preservation of "a trait" so novel in a monarch. The transactions at the Observatory, it may be said, were wholly connected with the private life of the King, and no more to be looked for from such a quarter than his experiments in agriculture, which, though not private, were happily not dependant for our knowledge of them on Rosencrantz or Guildenstern;[3] but when William Harrison saw his Majesty every Tuesday, either at St. James's, or Buckingham House, it could not be far removed from the mediate, or the intermediate observation of those lords, who, as Voltaire has it, are "powdered in the tip of the mode, and know exactly at what hour the King rises and goes to bed." Are we to suppose then, that the Sovereign, while assimilating his ideas with those of the discoverer of the Longitude, appeared to the knowing ones like Peter the Great, fresh from the dock-yard in Holland, to the courtiers of Lewis XIV. and that the reply, well understood, when it was enquired in the anti-room "with whom is the King engaged? would be—
Lord Sir! a mere Mechanic, strangely vile and low.
Then with the easy transition of the Poet,

—One asks what news?

And the context supplies the rest:

—he's told of some new plays;
New eunuch's, harlequin's, and operas.

With reference to the direct object of the Writer, how much it is to be regretted, that gentlemen of professed literary or scientific education, Fellows of the Royal Society and others, to whom the public features of the transactions with William Harrison it is highly probable were well known, if the private marks were not, should, either out of regard for some friend or friends, connected with the Commission of Longitude, or benumbed by experimenting on a torpedo caught near "the castle of indolence" in some lake the Poet forgot, have been entirely silent on a subject calculated to excite the utmost deference in select men of imposing denominations, congregated for such a purpose as denotes a Society styled Royal, and which collectively appeals to the patronage so implied: but in this case, without having contributed a single associate, who, instead of those indefinite professions which princes are accustomed to receive (especially in France) has indulged (the opportunity being so handsome) that fearless laudatory spirit, distinguished as such from the echo of official panegyric; because the merit it informs us of is enhanced, instead of evaporating, by any attempt to dwell on particulars, and explain in detail. It would have rendered null and void the obligation of resorting to precedent in those addresses which neither the above Society, nor any other, patronized by George 3rd would probably have withheld, had some new privilege been conferred on its corporation. The difference scarcely needs to be pointed out, between these eulogies for what may be effected by a stroke of the pen,[4] and those which, as in the present instance, were indeed amply merited by a conduct the singular perseverance of which seems more characteristic of the professors chair than of the diadem: while the command of temper which characterizes it far exceeds what experience commonly leads us to expect, either among philosophical recluses, or men of the world. Withal, not the least consideration, for it bespeaks uncommon attention, is the manifest contradiction here found to the rancorous assumptions of Junius—a man (or a woman, or a mental hermaphrodite) whose maleyolent passions centred in self, notwithstanding his stormy pretensions to the amor patriæ. Such unfounded personalities lead only to the conviction, that he never desired to meet with attributes in his Sovereign directly the reverse of those his effrontery hurled at the throne, from behind the dead wall, where he snorted through his pasteboard gnomon, or "grinned horribly a ghastly smile," but ducked down with affright, if in danger of being discovered, which he declared he could not survive three days.[5]—Let us hear him. "Accustomed to the language of courtiers, you measure their affections by the vehemence of their expressions, and when they only praise you indirectly, you admire their sincerity."—The party spirit of this writer may be resembled to that of Bellarmine, though it is not easy to say which was the most intolerant in his way.[6] If his sentiments of George 3rd are estimated by the tangible materials with which the public are furnished herewith, they are of no more value than "the gross of spectacles, with copper rims and shagreen cases, that Moses brought from the fair, and," at which Mr. Primrose exclaimed as we do, "a murrain take such trumpery." The case brought forward in these memoirs indubitably offered as fine a field for operations as an accomplished courtier could desire, "who trusted to the vehemence of his expressions to convince the monarch of his sincerity." It was susceptible of being magnified into something superhuman, by some skilful adulatory adept, who would have been wrapt into the third heaven, if his feathered unction had quickened the royal ear; but who they were that mounted by this ladder to preferment, or dreamed of kissing hands, or were enabled to mark one day with a white stone (if they were classically cognizant) could be known only to "that sage enchanter Merlin, who knew a point more than the Devil himself" or—to Junius, who knew better still. Neither could indirect praises pass for staunch encomiums with our Sovereign, for both the one and the other were a losing speculation;[7] and thence, it is to be lamented that the contrary evil resulted—that neither the disciples, nor the non-conformists, of this anonymous choak-dog[8] have preserved an item of the present case; and the Author has waited in vain, while

"Year chases year, decay pursues decay,"

for some disclosure from the self-edited, or the post-humous memoranda, of the one, or the other, noble lord, or distinguished commoner, honoured with some office near his Majesty's person, or frequently in his way at the period in reference (which assimilates with the chronology of Junius.) The visits of the Princess Dowager of Wales to fortune-tellers, attended by the heir apparent to the crown have reached posterity,[9] with other matters, scarcely of more importance than the diurnal records of the learned Elias Ashmole, who tells on one day, that he scratched his posteriors too closely, and on another, that his maid took physic! but the manhood of Prince George (who afterwards reigned near sixty years) wanted a Pacolet, or some more visible familiar, to make us better acquainted with his virtues:—a consideration which, after the Author had more than once offered the official and private papers connected with the subject to Gentlemen of far superior attainments, but found the proposal declined with more politeness than prudence, rendered it imperative on him to resort to the pen and the imprimatur, before his recollections should be consigned to the sable bier along with himself.

A review of these pages predisposed the writer to concede much in favour of that nobleman, of ill-fated political notoriety, who had the superintendence of this Prince's education in his adolescency; but he is not aware of any conclusive evidence coinciding with the conjecture; and an authority to which he defers,[10] has revived the combination between Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarine, who kept Lewis XIV. in an ignorance subservient to their own ambitious views,[11] to apply it to a similar attempt at engrossing power between the Princess Dowager and the Earl of Bute. But whatever were the defects in the course of instruction, or the discouragements to application, or the bias given to the royal pupil, they neither produced an impression of no decided features, nor a counterpart of the Thane himself, whose demeanour was no-ways prepossessing.[12] Like most men of a prompt and energetic cast of mind, this Monarch formed his own character, independent of adventitious aids, and of the sentiments of those about him.[13] And if the case of John Harrison, in which he voluntarily engaged, and followed up with determination, but with that discretion which the impossibility of coming forward in the regal character imposed on him, may be considered as a fair specimen of the fruit "the tree should be known by" who is there, of whatever party, the republican excepted, but will regret that the returns of revolving seasons, from the same stem, like those of the productive plant in the wilderness, "were wasted on the desert air."—That true knight-errant, as Smollet calls[14] Henry IV. of France, was fortunate in his Sully; in England the splendid talents of Dr. Johnson, were followed through their minor ramifications by a Boswell; since that commented on extensively by Mr. Croker; and we should covet the sayings and doings of the conqueror at Waterloo, when the batoon and gorget are laid aside; for this is as it should be; but it cannot be too much regretted that the busy idleness[15] of Prince Frederic's castle-building court should have been daily registered by a consummate politician of the Walpole school (whose reveries, whatever importance might attach to them in their day, and before the French revolution gave those affairs a kick head over heels, we are now in danger of falling asleep over) while the meritorious Grandson of George II. has the vault closed over him, without either the courtier, or the man of business, the philosopher, or any of the contemporary literati, having favoured us with some few particulars of a case of which none could have quoted the counterpart in a crowned head—a trait which not only vindicated that love of justice befitting his exalted station, but evinces a cultivated intellect in this Prince; not engaged in difficulties that concern only the metaphysician, but anxious on a question of vital importance, as connected with that art pre-eminently conducive to the prosperity of his subjects.—His public life has been duly recorded by political communicants of various creeds, but his private worth (that in which he must have desired to reign in the hearts of his people) though attempted by literary artists of skill and industry, it may now be seen is much injured by the loss of those materials which there was no retainer, of whatever rank, about the court, of sufficient abilities and sagacity to preserve; and thence our knowledge of George 3rd on points of the most lively interest, is proportionably defective.

The accomplished Fenelon in his description of Elysium and Tartarus, as Addison observes, lays a stress on the misery of bad, and the happiness of good kings, because his work was designed principally for the instruction of his royal pupil;—a purpose which, under a parity of circumstances, will be supposed to be the object of the present writer, if any distinguished preceptor honours him by taking the same view of that portion of the work in which "George the good" is brought forward. For although the history of the transactions which finally led to the royal "interference" was thought indispensably necessary in the way of explanation, it cannot be expected to excite the same interest, notwithstanding the extraordinary figure which a Nobleman unknown to fame cuts in the bustle of the scenery. In proportion as plain and substantial matters of fact may be conceived to convey a moral lesson better than the best romance, from Crusoe to the Waverleys, the Author would persuade himself he has stepped on high ground in an abstract view, and exclusive of his mode of dealing with the subject, on which it behoves him to observe a decorous silence. Like the mythological Novel of Telemachus, his production is primarily addressed to those persons usually of distinguished rank, and conspicuous for their learning, who are engaged in moulding the ductile thought of some illustrious pupil, and "teaching the young idea how to shoot"—when the mark, as may happen, is identified with the welfare of myriads of the population of some extended empire. But as those destined to wear the diadem, and their heirs, apparent or presumptive, with the branches of their House inclusively, constitute but a very small proportion of mankind, and as the details given are illustrative in no ordinary degree of a perseverance and humanity seldom supported with such consistency in private life; they become an example of virtuous self-denial, which all gradations in society, but especially the middle and the higher ranks, may profit by reflecting on, and reduce to practice, each according to his ability. If the various casualities in life should place oppressed genius, of either sex, within the reach of his sustaining hand, let him carry the ever honoured merits of George 3rd as an amulet, worn in imagination, to refresh and stimulate him to a conduct above all praise in this state of being, and an accredited passport to the mansions of the blessed.

George III. King of these Sister Islands, and their extensive dependencies, differed as much from the common standard of men destined by birth to such paramount rank as history tells us "good Aurelius," or Trajan, did from most of those that assumed the purple in "Imperial Rome." It was not in arms alone, nor yet in the sciences, that these united kingdoms vindicated their superiority, when, by universal admission, "we were the only people that never submitted to the law of the Conqueror, but by steadiness and perseverance, finally overcame him."[16] This cogent acknowledgment sufficed not (the Author would show) to make the name of an Englishman a passport to respect; for even a King, born and bred among us, a genuine British King, has some impressive features in his mental portrait, for which the resemblance may be sought in vain throughout the volume of Clio (where the Author hopes he is procuring its insertion, in indelible characters, on the same page where we read that) the merit of this Monarch was fostered, and his energies called into action, by the peculiar constitution—the unparalleled form of Government that obtains here, and here alone; by his efforts (and those of his Successor) for the protection of his dominions, and of Europe, which sustained under the all-seeing eye of Providence by the valour and skill of his commanders both by sea and land, raised the House of Brunswic to a distinction never surpassed by the most celebrated dynasties in modern history, or those referring to antecedent ages; equally founded as it is on the arts of peace, and the ability to repel aggression—exciting the "faint huzzas" of many a dying Highlander on Waterloo's eventful field,[17] and—the ardent prayers of every well-wisher to Old England—Scotland and Ireland inclusively, who, in mental perspective, would hail its limited but illustrious Monarchy transmitted through revolving and remote periods of the allegorical Traveller for ever progressing with a scythe and hour-glass.



Notes

  1. Sir N. W. Wraxall's Own Times.
  2. The unsuccessful party (the Lunar junta, and their supporters) wholly insensible to the merit of the share the King had in this concern, revenged themselves for their defeat, by affecting to call the grant he had procured "a snug money bill." But the Author, without "having presum'd into the heaven of heavens," or "drawn imperial air," scruples not to have recourse to those balances which Homer and Milton brought out on occasions of high behest: and stowing the Professors from Cam and Isis severally, with their gowns turned inside out, like military delinquents, and their square caps disposed a posteriori, in one scale, he places George 3rd in the other, without his crown, but with a telescope instead of the sceptre in one hand, and a chronometer, as a substitute for the globe in the other. The scales being then poised by majestic shade of Newton, whose off hand rests on an armillary sphere, the one surcharged with the discoveries of nine days in each Lunar month, "wind and weather permitting," proving lighter than inflammable gas, kicks the beam with a jerk that ejects the contents into "Limbo Lake," which, by Apollo's leave, we find with a fall ten thousand fathom deep below—and Mr. Croker looking into the abyss through the optics Dr. Maskelyne lent him, is overpowered and blinded, by the vapours from an immense heterogeneous mass, emitting Lunar corruscations—
    —"which more damnation doth upon them pile."
  3. Extract from the debates, in April, 1815.—
    "Mr. Whitbread enquired respecting a commission which had been granted to Lord Yarmouth, Mr. Nash, and Mr. Bicknell. Lord Yarmouth in explanation, said, that many years ago his Majesty had determined to keep many parts of the parks and forests in his own bands, on a farming system,[subnote 1] in order to give a respectability to the profession of farming, and that this idea had been seconded and followed up most beneficially for the country by the Duke of Bedford, Lord Somerville, Mr. Coke, and several others. Since his Majesty's illness, it had been judged proper by the Prince Regent, to give a power of attorney to three persons to take these farms under their trust, and to receive the rents from the tenants in the same way as had always been done; so that the whole, in case his Majesty should providentially recover, might be restored as nearly as possible in the same state.
  4. Of this description was the celebrated affair of the Miller at the court of Frederic III.; and as that transaction, the knowledge of which was soon circulated over Europe, may not be familiar to many readers of the present time, in this country, such are informed, that—a Judge, having decided that the Miller was bound to pay his rent, after his Landlord had diverted the course of the stream that turned the mill, and consequently rendered it useless, was ordered to be punished for a decision so contrary to equity.[subnote 2] The case of this Miller and that of our Mechanician, were much the same in principle though different in detail: for after the opinion of the Commissioners had flowed in the same channel with his so long a period, after they had drawn from him the labour of all the prime of his life, they had no more right to dictate further trials, unlimited in number, duration and exactness, than the Landlord had to turn the course of the stream by which the Miller was to get his bread. The desire of doing justice to an injured subject may be divided between these potentates, but how great is the disparity seen in what cost Frederic no further trouble than the perusal of the sufferer's case, enquiring into its authenticity, and affixing his signature to an order consequent; and the surprising self constraint by which George 3rd, to redeem his pledge, attended fourteen weeks at the meridian hour; and afterwards condescended, every Tuesday to examine and give an opinion on the several written or printed tracts which the junior Harrison laid before him, to know his advice, pending the application to Parliament. The trouble to the descendant of Albert the Achilles was not a ten-thousandth part of that incurred by the Elector of Hanover; he could, by the stamp of his booted foot, order matters instanter as he deemed fitting. In Germany, George 3rd could have imitated his neighbour, but in England he may be said to have toiled through the obstacles in the way to the redeeming of his pledge; and he was treated by the Commissioners, in November, 1772, as has been seen, and they have themselves recorded. His virtue was its own reward, except the recording Angel transmitted it to the Eternal Throne: while, on the contrary, the eclat of the Miller's affair soon passed the frontiers of Frederic's domains; and such respectable natives of Prussia as happened to be in London, or its vicinity, were convened by advertisement to celebrate this signal triumph of justice with a convivial dinner. But with the exception of the venerable Mechanician, his friends, and descendants, it does not appear that any set of Englishmen, fellows of the Royal Society, or others, ever drew a cork to honour the love of justice, the humanity, the singular patience and perseverance of their Sovereign. A prophet is without honour in his own country, and alas, a beneficent King is so here: even though his merit shines with irrefragable lustre when set off against that of the most celebrated of his contemporaries.
  5. The consciousness of his ignominious ingratitude, if detected, probably led to this extraordinary declaration.
  6. A digressive Note here is transferred to the Appendix under No. 8.
  7. When Adams, the optician and mathematical instrument maker, presented his "Treatise on the Use of the Globes," to the King, who had given him permission to bring the volume out under the royal sanction, his Majesty looked over the dedication, and said, "This is not your writing." "No Sire," replied Adams, "It was composed for me by Dr. Johnson." I thought so," answered the King; "It is excellent—and the better for being void of flattery, which I hate."—The Life and Times of William 4th. By John Watkins, LL.D.
  8. The name given by the shipwrecked sailors of the Antelope packet to a marmalade or sweetmeat esteemed by the inhabitants of the Pelew Islands: and with which they were presented.
  9. The following passage in the "Diary of a Lover of Literature" (Thomas Green, esquire, of——————) which the Author had not seen when he wrote; is too much in accordance with this melancholy neglect.—'The education of the Prince appears to have been a wretched one. Shut up from all liberal acquaintance and liberal knowledge, his Mother represents him as shy, backward, good-natured, cheerful, but with a serious cast of mind; not quick, but to those whom he knew, intelligent.' Had not the native vigour of his intellect shaken off this drag-chain, such an education was adapted to produce at most nothing better than the "leather and prunella" of Lewis XIII.
  10. Sir Nathaniel W. Wraxall's Own Times
  11. It is remarkable how extensive a range this evil takes. Mr. Sharp, the surgeon and traveller, writing from Italy near a century ago, tells us that, at the age of fourteen, the principal employment of the Prince Royal of Naples, afterwards Ferdinand IV. was, playing puppets. If we may rely on "A Year in Spain by a young American," the faults of Ferdinand VII. were partly natural, and otherwise the effect of education. Instead of being trained up and instructed with the care necessary to fit him for the high station to which be was born, his youth was not only neglected, but even purposely perverted—Godoy, whose views were of the most ambitious kind, took great pains to debase the character of the heir apparent.—But these instances are not of so much curiosity as a circumstance brought forward at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, in November, 1832. "Henry Ellis, esq.. Sec., communicated the draft of a letter to Queen Elizabeth, from Lord Paulet, her Majesty's Comptroller, a Treasurer of the Household, and afterwards Marquis of Winchester, written in the year 1571, and giving her Majesty a history of the debt under which she then laboured. He ascribes its origin to the extravagance of her father; stating that on the death of Henry VII. it was discussed in the council whether he young king should be educated "in worldly wisdom," or or in pleasures and amusements; when the sage counsellors, anxious to retain their places, decided upon the latter course, and thus laid the foundation of the debt, which was increased in the reign of Edward VI. and on subsequent occasions. Some explanation would seem desirable to those whom it has sufficed to adopt what floats on the surface of history. According to which, Henry, having an elder Brother, was designed for an ecclesiastic, and acquired great learning, which, at a subsequent period, enabled him to write against Luther in Latin. If it was agreed by Counsellors, who so little deserved the name, to lead him into such a dissipated and voluptuous course, yet, judging by common experience, he must have recurred to his scholastic exercises from time to time, or he could not have written that book,[subnote 3] if its authenticity is unquestioned. The selfishness imputed to the Council could only be exceeded by its impolicy. It had the worst consequences commonly seen in spoiled children; and Henry, who wanted a bridle more than spurs, became as headstrong and odious a tyrant as—the Democracy of Athens.
  12. The Author has somewhere read—it might be resembled to that of Philip II. when resident in this country.
  13. Edward III. may be quoted here; as his character rose to much superior to what might have been expected from the influence of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer.
  14. In his Travels.
  15. Laborious idleness their time employs.—Spectator.
  16. After the final surrender and deportation of Buonaparte to St. Helena, in 1815, this sentiment became very common on the Continent; and our countrymen found the benefit of it in travelling, by the respect with which they were treated—of which the writer knew personal instances.
  17. ———his last breath in faint huzzas.—Burns.



Subnotes

  1. There seems some want of precision in the above account; because what a land-owner retains in his own bands he is understood to farm himself, in distinction from that portion which is tenanted. The beneficial example his Majesty set to the nobility and country gentlemen of England had its full effect, and reminds as of what is related of the usages among the Chinese, whose dense population requiring the most marked attention to agriculture, the Emperor is accustomed once a year to descend from his celestial consequence, and hold the plough himself.—Our Sovereigin was diverted with the epithet of "Farmer George" which got into circulation shortly, and which, said they, be first learned from meeting a Peasant, early in the morning, driving some sheep towards Windsor. The King stopped to look at them, and asked who they were for?—for Farmer George was the answer.—"And who is Farmer George, I thought I knew all the Farmers in this neighbourhood?—He lives at that Great House yonder," pointing to the Castle, "and zum volks calls un the King, but we calls un Farmer George."—In connexion with this, an humourous print of small price, might be seen in that day, called "Farmer George and his Wife."
  2. As it was not said the Judge was bribed, the affair may be conjectured to have turned on some technical chicanery that attached to the Miller's agreement not having provided against a circumstance so unlooked for. In England it would have been held irreconcilable to the Common Law.
  3. How happens it that the learned ecclesiastics, and talented laymen, of the Romish persuasion, do not possess an undisputed copy of a polemic treatise rendered so remarkable by the sanction from the Pontifical chair, and its consequences?