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Mr. Nicholls next applied himself to the solution of the problem how the workhouse system, which had been safely and effectually applied to depauperise England, might be applied with safety and efficiency to put down mendicancy and relieve destitution in Ireland. In that country the task was beset with peculiar difficulties. Assuming the principle that the pauper should not be better off than the labourer, it would be difficult to devise any workhouse dress, diet, or lodging that would not be better than what many of the poor actually enjoyed. But, on the other hand, the Irish poor were fond of change, hopeful, sanguine, migratory, desultory in their habits, hating all restraints of order and system, averse from the trouble of cleanliness; and rather than be subject to the restrictions and regularity of a workhouse, an Irishman, in health and strength, would wander the world over to obtain a living. Hence, no matter how well he might be lodged, fed, and clad in a workhouse, he could not endure the confinement. Consequently, Mr. Nicholls found in the state of Ireland no sufficient reason for departing from the principle of the English Poor Law, which recognises destitution alone as the ground of relief, nor for establishing a distinction in the one country that does not exist in the other.The Opposition was in ecstasies: it was the first defeat of Ministers on a financial question since the days of Walpole, and in our time the Chancellor would have resigned. The blow seemed to rouse Chatham. Three days after this event, on the 2nd of March, he arrived in town, though swathed in flannel, and scarcely able to move hand or foot. He declared that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and himself could not hold office together. A few days, and Townshend would have been dismissed from office, and the country might have escaped one of its greatest shocks; but, unfortunately, the malady of Chatham returned with redoubled violence, and in a new and more terrible form. He was obliged to refuse seeing any one on State affairs.

Grey and Fox then made an equally brisk attack on the support of Turkey by Ministers. They greatly applauded the Czarina, and Fox affirmed that so far from Turkey soliciting our interference, it had objected to it. On the same day, in the Lords, Lord Fitzwilliam opened the same question. He contended that we had fitted out an expensive armament to prevent the conquest by Russia of Oczakoff, and yet had not done it, but had ended in accepting the very terms that the Czarina had offered in 1790. Ministers replied that, though we had not saved Oczakoff, we had prevented still more extensive attempts by Russia. Though the Opposition, in both cases, was defeated, the attack was renewed on the 27th of February, when the Earl Stanhope—an enthusiastic worshipper of the French Revolution—recommended, as the best means of preventing aggression by Continental monarchs, a close alliance on our part with France. Two days afterwards Mr. Whitbread introduced a string of resolutions in the Commons, condemning the interference of Ministers between Russia and Turkey, and the needless expenditure thus incurred, in fact, going over[390] much the same ground. A strenuous debate followed, in which Grey, Fox, Windham, Francis, Sheridan, and the whole Whig phalanx, took part. On this occasion, Mr. Jenkinson, afterwards Earl of Liverpool, first appeared, and made his maiden speech in defence of Ministers. He showed that the system of aggression had commenced with Russia, and menaced the profoundest dangers to Europe; that Britain had wisely made alliance with Prussia to stem the evil, and he utterly repudiated all notion of the moderation of the Czarina, whose ambition he asserted to be of the most unscrupulous kind.

[545]

CAPT. THOMAS DRUMMOND, UNDER-SECRETARY FOR IRELAND.Meanwhile Lord Ashley, a staunch upholder of the Corn Laws, in a letter to his constituents of Dorsetshire declared his opinion "that the destiny of the Corn Laws was fixed," and that it would be wise to consider "how best to break the force of an inevitable blow." Mr. Bickham and Captain Estcott, also strong defenders of the landlords' monopoly, published their conviction that the Corn Laws were no longer tenable; and on the 22nd of November Lord John Russell, who was at Edinburgh, addressed a letter to the electors of the City of London, which was duly circulated throughout the kingdom, and which contained the following remarkable passages:—

Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Wren's, and an assistant of Vanbrugh's in building Castle Howard and Blenheim House, was the architect of St. George's-in-the-East, Ratcliff Highway, begun in 1715; of St. Mary Woolnoth, Lombard Street; of St. George's, Bloomsbury; St. Anne's, Limehouse; of Easton Norton House, in Northamptonshire; and of some other works, including a mausoleum at Castle Howard, and repairs of the west front of Westminster Abbey. St. George's, Bloomsbury, is perhaps his finest structure. It has a Corinthian portico, like St. Martin's, and the steeple is surmounted by a statue of George II.In the Royal Speech his Majesty recommended that, when this special object was accomplished, Parliament should take into their deliberate consideration the whole condition of Ireland, and that they should review the laws which imposed disabilities upon Roman Catholics, to see whether their removal could be effected "consistently with the full and permanent security of our establishments in Church and State, with the maintenance of the Reformed religion established by law, and of the rights and privileges of the bishops and of the clergy of this realm, and of the churches committed to their charge."The audacity of Buonaparte still further excited the indignation of the British Government. Under the name of consuls, he sent over to England and Ireland a number of military officers, whose real business was to act as privileged spies, to prepare plans of all the chief ports, with soundings, and an exact account of the winds with which vessels could go out or come in with most ease, and also at what draught of water the harbours might be entered by large vessels. These agents had been instructed to maintain the utmost secrecy as to their real objects, but they became known, and Ministers announced that any person coming in such a character to this country should be ordered instantly to quit it. Neither was the temper of the nation at all improved by the irritating proceedings of the French authorities on the coasts of France. A law had been passed by the Jacobins, in the most rabid time of the Revolution, condemning any vessel under a hundred tons burden found within four leagues of the French shores, having on board British merchandise. It was taken for granted that this decree was virtually annulled by the Peace of Amiens; but repeated seizures were now made of British merchant vessels driven by stress of weather on the French coasts, and the mere fact of having plates, knives, and forks for the crew, of British make, was used as a plea for confiscation of ships. It was in vain that remonstrances were made to the First Consul: they passed without notice. Such a peace it was evident could not last long. Napoleon was in a mood to brook no control from any quarter; he at this time showed how completely he would crush any creature who offended him when he had the power.

The Commissioners recommended the appointment of a central board to control the administration of the Poor Laws, with such assistant Commissioners as might be found requisite, the Commissioners being empowered and directed to frame and enforce regulations for the government of workhouses, and as to the nature and amount of the relief to be given and the labour to be exacted; the regulations to be uniform throughout the country. The necessity of a living, central, permanent authority had been rendered obvious by the disastrous working of the old system, arising partly from the absence of such control—an authority accumulating experience in itself, independent of local control, uninterested in favour of local abuse, and responsible to the Government. A Board of three Commissioners was therefore appointed under the Act, themselves appointing assistant Commissioners, capable of receiving the powers of the Commission by delegation. The anomalous state of things with regard to districts was removed by the formation of unions.[342]Meanwhile these disturbances elsewhere were having a disastrous effect upon the fortunes of the war in Lombardy. At first, indeed, everything pointed to the success of the Italian cause. In May Peschiera fell, and Radetzky, venturing beyond the Quadrilateral, was defeated by Charles Albert at Goito. Already the Italians had rejected the help which Lamartine offered them from France, and Austria in despair appealed to Lord Palmerston for the mediation of Britain. Well would it have been for the Italians if terms could have been arranged. Lord Palmerston, indeed, who had already sent off a private note to the British Minister at Vienna, advising the Austrians to give up their Italian possessions at once, now consented to propose an armistice, while asserting that "things had gone too far to admit of any future connection between Austria and the Italians." But nothing came of the proposal; the Sardinians declined to consent to the armistice, which would only be for the benefit of Radetzky, who was at this moment somewhat hardly pressed; and the maximum of the concessions offered by the Austrian envoy, Baron Hummelauer, was that Lombardy should be freed from its connection with Austria while Venice should be retained. Palmerston considered the surrender insufficient, and the war went on.

So passed from a long possession of power a Minister who inaugurated a system of corruption, which was not so much abused by himself, as made a ready instrument of immeasurable mischief in the hands of his successors. Had Walpole used the power which he purchased with the country's money more arbitrarily and perniciously, the system must have come much sooner to an end. As it was, the evils which he introduced fell rather on posterity than on his own time.The year 1797 was opened by the suspension of cash payments. The Bank of England had repeatedly represented to Pitt, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, that his enormous demands upon it for specie, as well as paper money, had nearly exhausted its coffers and could not long be continued. The payment of our armies abroad, and the advances to foreign kings, were necessarily made[455] in cash. The Government, in spite of enormous taxation, had already overdrawn its account eleven million six hundred and sixty-eight thousand eight hundred pounds, and the sole balance in the hands of the Bank was reduced to three million eight hundred and twenty-six thousand eight hundred and ninety pounds. Pitt was demanding a fresh loan for Ireland, when a message came from the Bank to say that, in existing circumstances, it could not be complied with. Thus suddenly pulled up, the Privy Council was summoned, and it was concluded to issue an order for stopping all further issue of cash, except to the Government, and except one hundred thousand pounds for the accommodation of private bankers and traders. Paper money was made a legal tender to all other parties, and the Bank was empowered to issue small notes for the accommodation of the public instead of guineas. A Bill was passed for the purpose, and that it might not be considered more than a temporary measure, it was made operative only till June; but it was renewed from time to time by fresh Acts of Parliament. The system was not abolished again till 1819, when Sir Robert Peel brought in his Bill for the resumption of cash payments, and during the whole of that time the depreciation of paper money was comparatively slight.

Before the conclusion of this treaty Pitt had made another effort to obtain peace with France. The fact that one ally, Austria, was engaged in separate negotiations gave him a fair excuse, and Lord Malmesbury was once more sent to negotiate. He went to Lille, presented his plan of a treaty, and at first all went well. Britain promised to restore all her conquests with the exception of Ceylon, the Cape of Good Hope, and Trinidad. But the Directory suffered the negotiations to drag on, and when intestine struggles in France had been terminated in the triumph of the Republican party on the 18th Fructidor (September 4), the negotiations were suddenly broken off on the ground that Malmesbury had not full authority. Once more the war party in France had gained the day, and the weary contest was resumed.[See larger version]

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To acquire popularity, the Rockingham administration made a further restriction on the import of foreign silks; they made a modification of the Cider Bill, but this only extended to taking the duty off cider belonging to private persons, and was regarded as a bribe to the country gentlemen. They induced the House of Commons to pass a resolution on the 25th of April, declaring general warrants illegal, and, if for seizing any member of the House, a breach of privilege. But when they passed this in the form of a bill, the Lords threw it out; and a second bill for the same purpose failed in the Commons. Still, these conciliatory measures did not procure them confidence. Colonel Barré refused them his support; General Conway was sick of his post, and longed to be out of it; and Henley, Lord Northington, as Chancellor, was found actually intriguing against his colleagues. With the Court they grew into no favour, because the king thought them backward in procuring from Parliament suitable provision for his younger brother. It was clear that this could not last. To cap the climax of weakness, the Rockingham Cabinet came to open issue amongst themselves on the plan of government for Canada. Northington informed the king that they could not go on; and the king, on the 7th of July, gave the Chancellor a letter to Pitt, inviting him to form a new Ministry. The same day his Majesty also informed the existing Cabinet of the change which he contemplated. Conway[190] said frankly, it was the best thing the king could do; but Lord Rockingham and the Duke of Newcastle were deeply offended.[294]The fire had soon become general, and a desperate struggle was raging along the whole line. Buonaparte threw column after column forward against the British squares; but they were met with deadly volleys of artillery and musketry, and reeled back amid horrible slaughter. A desperate push was made to carry La Haye Sainte and the farm of Mont St. Jean, on Wellington's left centre, by the cuirassiers, followed by four columns of French infantry. The cuirassiers charged furiously along the Genappe causeway, but were met and hurled back by the heavy British cavalry. The four columns of infantry reached La Haye Sainte and dispersed a body of Belgians; but Picton, advancing with Pack's brigade, forced them back, and the British cavalry, which had repulsed the cuirassiers, attacking them in flank, they were broken with heavy slaughter and left two thousand prisoners and a couple of eagles behind them. But the British, both cavalry and infantry, pursuing their advantage too far, were in turn repulsed with great loss, and Generals Picton and Ponsonby were killed. The French then again surrounded La Haye Sainte, where a detachment of the German legion, falling short of ammunition, and none being able to be conveyed to them, were literally massacred, refusing to surrender. In a little time the French were driven out of the farmhouses by shells.

In fact, whilst these events had been proceeding on the frontiers of France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria had been dividing Poland amongst them. The King of Prussia, when contemplating his participation in this vile business, issued a proclamation assigning the most virtuous reasons for it. It was to check the spread of French principles in Poland, which had compelled himself and his amiable allies, the Empress of Russia and the Emperor of Germany, to invade Poland. But these pretences were merely a cloak for a shameless robbery. Poland abutted on Prussia with the desirable ports of Thorn and Dantzic, and therefore Great Poland was especially revolutionary in the eyes of Frederick William of Prussia. The Polish Diet exposed the hollowness of these pretences in a counter-manifesto. This produced a manifesto from Francis of Austria, who declared that the love of peace and good neighbourhood would not allow him to oppose the intentions of Prussia, or permit any other Power to interfere with the efforts of Russia and Prussia to pacify Poland; in fact, his love of peace would not allow him to discountenance an aggressive war, but his love of good neighbourhood would allow him to permit the most flagrant breach of good neighbourhood. As for the Empress of Russia, she had a long catalogue of ingratitude against the Poles, in addition to their Jacobinical principles, and for these very convenient reasons she had now taken possession of certain portions of that kingdom, and called on all the inhabitants of these districts to swear allegiance to her immediately. The Empress having thus broken the ice of her real motives, the King of Prussia no longer pretended to conceal his, but called on all the inhabitants of Great Poland to swear allegiance to him forthwith. The Russian Ambassador at Grodno commanded the Poles to carry these orders of Russia and Prussia into effect by a circular dated the 9th of April. The great Polish Confederation, which had invited the interference of Russia in order to carry out their own party views, were much confounded by these announcements of their friends. They reminded the marauders of the engagements entered into by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, at the time of the former partition, to guarantee the integrity of the remainder. But this was merely parleying with assassins with the knife at their throats. The aggressive Powers by force of arms compelled poor King Poniatowski and the nobles to assemble a Diet, and draw up and sign an instrument for the alienation of the required territories. By this forced cession a territory, containing a population of more than three millions and a half, was made over to Russia; and another territory to Prussia, containing a million and a half of inhabitants, together with the navigation of the Vistula, with the port of Thorn on that great river, and of Dantzic on the Baltic, so long coveted. As for the small remainder of what once had been Poland, which was left to that shadow-king, Poniatowski, it was bound down under all the old oppressive regulations, and had Russian garrisons at Warsaw and other towns. But all these Powers were compelled to maintain large garrisons in their several sections of the appropriated country.[420]

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