The History of England from the Accession of James II, Vol. 4
Thomas Babington Macaulay

Part 5 out of 15

masters of the art of fortification were opposed to each other.
Vauban had during many years been regarded as the first of
engineers; but a formidable rival had lately arisen, Menno, Baron
of Cohorn, the ablest officer in the service of the States
General. The defences of Namur had been recently strengthened and
repaired under Cohorn's superintendence; and he was now within
the walls. Vauban was in the camp of Lewis. It might therefore be
expected that both the attack and the defence would be conducted
with consummate ability.

By this time the allied armies had assembled; but it was too
late.305 William hastened towards Namur. He menaced the French
works, first from the west, then from the north, then from the
east. But between him and the lines of circumvallation lay the
army of Luxemburg, turning as he turned, and always so strongly
posted that to attack it would have been the height of
imprudence. Meanwhile the besiegers, directed by the skill of
Vauban and animated by the presence of Lewis, made rapid
progress. There were indeed many difficulties to be surmounted
and many hardships to be endured. The weather was stormy; and, on
the eighth of June, the feast of Saint Medard, who holds in the
French Calendar the same inauspicious place which in our Calendar
belongs to Saint Swithin, the rain fell in torrents. The Sambre
rose and covered many square miles on which the harvest was
green. The Mehaigne whirled down its bridges to the Meuse. All
the roads became swamps. The trenches were so deep in water and
mire that it was the business of three days to move a gun from
one battery to another. The six thousand waggons which had
accompanied the French army were useless. It was necessary that
gunpowder, bullets, corn, hay, should be carried from place to
place on the backs of the war horses. Nothing but the authority
of Lewis could, in such circumstances, have maintained order and
inspired cheerfulness. His soldiers, in truth, showed much more
reverence for him than for what their religion had made sacred.
They cursed Saint Medard heartily, and broke or burned every
image of him that could be found. But for their King there was
nothing that they were not ready to do and to bear. In spite of
every obstacle they constantly gained ground. Cohorn was severely
wounded while defending with desperate resolution a fort which he
had himself constructed, and of which he was proud. His place
could not be supplied. The governor was a feeble man whom
Gastanaga had appointed, and whom William had recently advised
the Elector of Bavaria to remove. The spirit of the garrison gave
way. The town surrendered on the eighth day of the siege, the
citadel about three weeks later.306

The history of the fall of Namur in 1692 bears a close
resemblance to the history of the fail of Mons in 1691. Both in
1691 and in 1692, Lewis, the sole and absolute master of the
resources of his kingdom, was able to open the campaign, before
William, the captain of a coalition, had brought together his
dispersed forces. In both years the advantage of having the first
move decided the event of the game. At Namur, as at Mons, Lewis,
assisted by Vauban conducted the siege; Luxemburg covered it;
William vainly tried to raise it, and, with deep mortification,
assisted as a spectator at the victory of his enemy.

In one respect however the fate of the two fortresses was very
different. Mons was delivered up by its own inhabitants. Namur
might perhaps have been saved if the garrison had been as zealous
and determined as the population. Strange to say, in this place,
so long subject to a foreign rule, there was found a patriotism
resembling that of the little Greek commonwealths. There is no
reason to believe that the burghers cared about the balance of
power, or had any preference for James or for William, for the
Most Christian King or for the Most Catholic King. But every
citizen considered his own honour as bound up with the honour of
the maiden fortress. It is true that the French did not abuse
their victory. No outrage was committed; the privileges of the
municipality were respected, the magistrates were not changed. Yet
the people could not see a conqueror enter their hitherto
unconquered castle without tears of rage and shame. Even the
barefooted Carmelites, who had renounced all pleasures, all
property, all society, all domestic affection, whose days were
all fast days, who passed month after month without uttering a
word, were strangely moved. It was in vain that Lewis attempted
to soothe them by marks of respect and by munificent bounty.
Whenever they met a French uniform they turned their heads away
with a look which showed that a life of prayer, of abstinence and
of silence had left one earthly feeling still unsubdued.307

This was perhaps the moment at which the arrogance of Lewis
reached the highest point. He had achieved the last and the most
splendid military exploit of his life. His confederated foes,
English, Dutch and German, had, in their own despite, swelled his
triumph, and had been witnesses of the glory which made their
hearts sick. His exultation was boundless. The inscriptions on
the medals which he struck to commemorate his success, the
letters by which he enjoined the prelates of his kingdom to sing
the Te Deum, were boastful and sarcastic. His people, a people
among whose many fine qualities moderation in prosperity cannot
be reckoned, seemed for a time to be drunk with pride. Even
Boileau, hurried along by the prevailing enthusiasm, forgot the
good sense and good taste to which he owed his reputation. He
fancied himself a lyric poet, and gave vent to his feelings in a
hundred and sixty lines of frigid bombast about Alcides, Mars,
Bacchus, Ceres, the lyre of Orpheus, the Thracian oaks and the
Permessian nymphs. He wondered whether Namur, had, like Troy,
been built by Apollo and Neptune. He asked what power could
subdue a city stronger than that before which the Greeks lay ten
years; and he returned answer to himself that such a miracle
could be wrought only by Jupiter or by Lewis. The feather in the
hat of Lewis was the loadstar of victory. To Lewis all things
must yield, princes, nations, winds, waters. In conclusion the
poet addressed himself to the banded enemies of France, and
tauntingly bade them carry back to their homes the tidings that
Namur had been taken in their sight. Before many months had
elapsed both the boastful king and the boastful poet were taught
that it is prudent as well as graceful to be modest in the hour
of victory.

One mortification Lewis had suffered even in the midst of his
prosperity. While he lay before Namur, he heard the sounds of
rejoicing from the distant camp of the allies. Three peals of
thunder from a hundred and forty pieces of cannon were answered
by three volleys from sixty thousand muskets. It was soon known
that these salutes were fired on account of the battle of La
Hogue. The French King exerted himself to appear serene. "They
make a strange noise," he said, "about the burning of a few
ships." In truth he was much disturbed, and the more so because a
report had reached the Low Countries that there had been a sea
fight, and that his fleet had been victorious. His good humour
however was soon restored by the brilliant success of those
operations which were under his own immediate direction. When the
siege was over, he left Luxemburg in command of the army, and
returned to Versailles. At Versailles the unfortunate Tourville
soon presented himself, and was graciously received. As soon as
he appeared in the circle, the King welcomed him in a loud voice.
"I am perfectly satisfied with you and with my sailors. We have
been beaten, it is true; but your honour and that of the nation
are unsullied."308

Though Lewis had quitted the Netherlands, the eyes of all Europe
were still fixed on that region. The armies there had been
strengthened by reinforcements drawn from many quarters. Every
where else the military operations of the year were languid and
without interest. The Grand Vizier and Lewis of Baden did little
more than watch each other on the Danube. Marshal Noailles and
the Duke of Medina Sidonia did little more than watch each other
under the Pyrenees. On the Upper Rhine, and along the frontier
which separates France from Piedmont, an indecisive predatory war
was carried on, by which the soldiers suffered little and the
cultivators of the soil much. But all men looked, with anxious
expectation of some great event, to the frontier of Brabant,
where William was opposed to Luxemburg.

Luxemburg, now in his sixty-sixth year, had risen, by slow
degrees, and by the deaths of several great men, to the first
place among the generals of his time. He was of that noble house
of Montmorency which united many mythical and many historical
titles to glory, which boasted that it sprang from the first
Frank who was baptized into the name of Christ in the fifth
century, and which had, since the eleventh century, given to
France a long and splendid succession of Constables and Marshals.
In valour and abilities Luxemburg was not inferior to any of his
illustrious race. But, highly descended and highly gifted as he
was, he had with difficulty surmounted the obstacles which
impeded him in the road to fame. If he owed much to the bounty of
nature and fortune, he had suffered still more from their spite.
His features were frightfully harsh, his stature was diminutive; a
huge and pointed hump rose on his back. His constitution was
feeble and sickly. Cruel imputations had been thrown on his
morals. He had been accused of trafficking with sorcerers and
with vendors of poison, had languished long in a dungeon, and had
at length regained his liberty without entirely regaining his
honour.309 He had always been disliked both by Louvois and by
Lewis. Yet the war against the European coalition had lasted but
a very short time when both the minister and the King felt that
the general who was personally odious to them was necessary to
the state. Conde and Turenne were no more; and Luxemburg was
without dispute the first soldier that France still possessed. In
vigilance, diligence and perseverance he was deficient. He seemed
to reserve his great qualities for great emergencies. It was on a
pitched field of battle that he was all himself. His glance was
rapid and unerring. His judgment was clearest and surest when
responsibility pressed heaviest on him and when difficulties
gathered thickest around him. To his skill, energy and presence
of mind his country owed some glorious days. But, though
eminently successful in battles, he was not eminently successful
in campaigns. He gained immense renown at William's expense; and
yet there was, as respected the objects of the war, little to
choose between the two commanders. Luxemburg was repeatedly
victorious; but he had not the art of improving a victory.
William was repeatedly defeated; but of all generals he was the
best qualified to repair a defeat.

In the month of July William's headquarters were at Lambeque.
About six miles off, at Steinkirk, Luxemburg had encamped with
the main body of his army; and about six miles further off lay a
considerable force commanded by the Marquess of Boufflers, one of
the best officers in the service of Lewis.

The country between Lambeque and Steinkirk was intersected by
innumerable hedges and ditches; and neither army could approach
the other without passing through several long and narrow
defiles. Luxemburg had therefore little reason to apprehend that
he should be attacked in his entrenchments; and he felt assured
that he should have ample notice before any attack was made; for
he had succeeded in corrupting an adventurer named Millevoix, who
was chief musician and private secretary of the Elector of
Bavaria. This man regularly sent to the French headquarters
authentic information touching the designs of the allies.

The Marshal, confident in the strength of his position and in the
accuracy of his intelligence, lived in his tent as he was
accustomed to live in his hotel at Paris. He was at once a
valetudinarian and a voluptuary; and, in both characters, he
loved his ease. He scarcely ever mounted his horse. Light
conversation and cards occupied most of his hours. His table was
luxurious; and, when he had sate down to supper, it was a service
of danger to disturb him. Some scoffers remarked that in his
military dispositions he was not guided exclusively by military
reasons, that he generally contrived to entrench himself in some
place where the veal and the poultry were remarkably good, and
that he was always solicitous to keep open such communications
with the sea as might ensure him, from September to April, a
regular supply of Sandwich oysters.

If there were any agreeable women in the neighbourhood of his
camp, they were generally to be found at his banquets. It may
easily be supposed that, under such a commander, the young
princes and nobles of France vied with one another in splendour
and gallantry.310

While he was amusing himself after his wonted fashion, the
confederate princes discovered that their counsels were betrayed.
A peasant picked up a letter which had been dropped, and carried
it to the Elector of Bavaria. It contained full proofs of the
guilt of Millevoix. William conceived a hope that he might be
able to take his enemies in the snare which they had laid for
him. The perfidious secretary was summoned to the royal presence
and taxed with his crime. A pen was put into his hand; a pistol
was held to his breast; and he was commanded to write on pain of
instant death. His letter, dictated by William, was conveyed to
the French camp. It apprised Luxemburg that the allies meant to
send out a strong foraging party on the next day. In order to
protect this party from molestation, some battalions of infantry,
accompanied by artillery, would march by night to occupy the
defiles which lay between the armies. The Marshal read, believed
and went to rest, while William urged forward the preparations
for a general assault on the French lines.

The whole allied army was under arms while it was still dark. In
the grey of the morning Luxemburg was awakened by scouts, who
brought tidings that the enemy was advancing in great force. He at
first treated the news very lightly. His correspondent, it
seemed, had been, as usual, diligent and exact. The Prince of
Orange had sent out a detachment to protect his foragers, and
this detachment had been magnified by fear into a great host. But
one alarming report followed another fast. All the passes, it was
said, were choked with multitudes of foot, horse and artillery,
under the banners of England and of Spain, of the United
Provinces and of the Empire; and every column was moving towards
Steinkirk. At length the Marshal rose, got on horseback, and rode
out to see what was doing.

By this time the vanguard of the allies was close to his
outposts. About half a mile in advance of his army was encamped a
brigade named from the province of Bourbonnais. These troops had
to bear the first brunt of the onset. Amazed and panicstricken,
they were swept away in a moment, and ran for their lives,
leaving their tents and seven pieces of cannon to the assailants.

Thus far William's plans had been completely successful but now
fortune began to turn against him. He had been misinformed as to
the nature of the ground which lay between the station of the
brigade of Bourbonnais and the main encampment of the enemy. He
had expected that he should be able to push forward without a
moment's pause, that he should find the French army in a state of
wild disorder, and that his victory would be easy and complete.
But his progress was obstructed by several fences and ditches;
there was a short delay; and a short delay sufficed to frustrate
his design. Luxemburg was the very man for such a conjuncture. He
had committed great faults; he had kept careless guard; he had
trusted implicitly to information which had proved false; he had
neglected information which had proved true; one of his divisions
was flying in confusion; the other divisions were unprepared for
action. That crisis would have paralysed the faculties of an
ordinary captain; it only braced and stimulated those of
Luxemburg. His mind, nay his sickly and distorted body, seemed to
derive health and vigour from disaster and dismay. In a short
time he had disposed every thing. The French army was in battle
order. Conspicuous in that great array were the household troops
of Lewis, the most renowned body of fighting men in Europe; and
at their head appeared, glittering in lace and embroidery hastily
thrown on and half fastened, a crowd of young princes and lords
who had just been roused by the trumpet from their couches or
their revels, and who had hastened to look death in the face with
the gay and festive intrepidity characteristic of French
gentlemen. Highest in rank among these highborn warriors was a
lad of sixteen, Philip Duke of Chartres, son of the Duke of
Orleans, and nephew of the King of France. It was with difficulty
and by importunate solicitation that the gallant boy had extorted
Luxemburg's permission to be where the fire was hottest. Two
other youths of royal blood, Lewis Duke of Bourbon, and Armand
Prince of Conti, showed a spirit worthy of their descent. With
them was a descendant of one of the bastards of Henry the Fourth,
Lewis Duke of Vendome, a man sunk in indolence and in the foulest
vice, yet capable of exhibiting on a great occasion the qualities
of a great soldier. Berwick, who was beginning to earn for
himself an honourable name in arms, was there; and at his side
rode Sarsfield, whose courage and ability earned, on that day,
the esteem of the whole French army. Meanwhile Luxemburg had sent
off a pressing message to summon Boufflers. But the message was
needless. Boufflers had heard the firing, and, like a brave and
intelligent captain, was already hastening towards the point from
which the sound came.

Though the assailants had lost all the advantage which belongs to
a surprise, they came on manfully. In the front of the battle
were the British commanded by Count Solmes. The division which
was to lead the way was Mackay's. He was to have been supported,
according to William's plan, by a strong body of foot and horse.
Though most of Mackay's men had never before been under fire,
their behaviour gave promise of Blenheim and Ramilies. They first
encountered the Swiss, who held a distinguished place in the
French army. The fight was so close and desperate that the
muzzles of the muskets crossed. The Swiss were driven back with
fearful slaughter. More than eighteen hundred of them appear from
the French returns to have been killed or wounded. Luxemburg
afterwards said that he had never in his life seen so furious a
struggle. He collected in haste the opinion of the generals who
surrounded him. All thought that the emergency was one which
could be met by no common means. The King's household must charge
the English. The Marshal gave the word; and the household, headed
by the princes of the blood, came on, flinging their muskets back
on their shoulders. "Sword in hand," was the cry through all the
ranks of that terrible brigade: "sword in hand. No firing. Do it
with the cold steel." After a long and desperate resistance the
English were borne down. They never ceased to repeat that, if
Solmes had done his duty by them, they would have beaten even the
household. But Solmes gave them no effective support. He pushed
forward some cavalry which, from the nature of the ground, could
do little or nothing. His infantry he would not suffer to stir.
They could do no good, he said, and he would not send them to be
slaughtered. Ormond was eager to hasten to the assistance of his
countrymen, but was not permitted. Mackay sent a pressing message
to represent that he and his men were left to certain
destruction; but all was vain. "God's will be done," said the
brave veteran. He died as he had lived, like a good Christian and
a good soldier. With him fell Douglas and Lanier, two generals
distinguished among the conquerors of Ireland. Mountjoy too was
among the slain. After languishing three years in the Bastile, he
had just been exchanged for Richard Hamilton, and, having been
converted to Whiggism by wrongs more powerful than all the
arguments of Locke and Sidney, had instantly hastened to join
William's camp as a volunteer.311 Five fine regiments were
entirely cut to pieces. No part of this devoted band would have
escaped but for the courage and conduct of Auverquerque, who came
to the rescue in the moment of extremity with two fresh
battalions. The gallant manner in which he brought off the
remains of Mackay's division was long remembered with grateful
admiration by the British camp fires. The ground where the
conflict had raged was piled with corpses; and those who buried
the slain remarked that almost all the wounds had been given in
close fighting by the sword or the bayonet.

It was said that William so far forgot his wonted stoicism as to
utter a passionate exclamation at the way in which the English
regiments had been sacrificed. Soon, however, he recovered his
equanimity, and determined to fall back. It was high time; for
the French army was every moment becoming stronger, as the
regiments commanded by Boufflers came up in rapid succession. The
allied army returned to Lambeque unpursued and in unbroken

The French owned that they had about seven thousand men killed
and wounded. The loss of the allies had been little, if at all,
greater. The relative strength of the armies was what it had been
on the preceding day; and they continued to occupy their old
positions. But the moral effect of the battle was great. The
splendour of William's fame grew pale. Even his admirers were
forced to own that, in the field, he was not a match for
Luxemburg. In France the news was received with transports of joy
and pride. The Court, the Capital, even the peasantry of the
remotest provinces, gloried in the impetuous valour which had
been displayed by so many youths, the heirs of illustrious names.
It was exultingly and fondly repeated all over the kingdom that
the young Duke of Chartres could not by any remonstrances be kept
out of danger, that a ball had passed through his coat that he
had been wounded in the shoulder. The people lined the roads to
see the princes and nobles who returned from Steinkirk. The
jewellers devised Steinkirk buckles; the perfumers sold Steinkirk
powder. But the name of the field of battle was peculiarly given
to a new species of collar. Lace neckcloths were then worn by men
of fashion; and it had been usual to arrange them with great
care. But at the terrible moment when the brigade of Bourbonnais
was flying before the onset of the allies, there was no time for
foppery; and the finest gentlemen of the Court came spurring to
the front of the line of battle with their rich cravats in
disorder. It therefore became a fashion among the beauties of
Paris to wear round their necks kerchiefs of the finest lace
studiously disarranged; and these kerchiefs were called

In the camp of the allies all was disunion and discontent.
National jealousies and animosities raged without restraint or
disguise. The resentment of the English was loudly expressed.
Solmes, though he was said by those who knew him well to have
some valuable qualities, was not a man likely to conciliate
soldiers who were prejudiced against him as a foreigner. His
demeanour was arrogant, his temper ungovernable. Even before the
unfortunate day of Steinkirk the English officers did not
willingly communicate with him, and the private men murmured at
his harshness. But after the battle the outcry against him became
furious. He was accused, perhaps unjustly, of having said with
unfeeling levity, while the English regiments were contending
desperately against great odds, that he was curious to see how
the bulldogs would come off. Would any body, it was asked, now
pretend that it was on account of his superior skill and
experience that he had been put over the heads of so many English
officers? It was the fashion to say that those officers had never
seen war on a large scale. But surely the merest novice was
competent to do all that Solmes had done, to misunderstand
orders, to send cavalry on duty which none but infantry could
perform, and to look on at safe distance while brave men were cut
to pieces. It was too much to be at once insulted and sacrificed,
excluded from the honours of war, yet pushed on all its extreme
dangers, sneered at as raw recruits, and then left to cope
unsupported with the finest body of veterans in the world. Such
were the complains of the English army; and they were echoed by
the English nation.

Fortunately about this time a discovery was made which furnished
both the camp at Lambeque and the coffeehouses of London with a
subject of conversation much less agreeable to the Jacobites than
the disaster of Steinkirk.

A plot against the life of William had been, during some months,
maturing in the French War Office. It should seem that Louvois
had originally sketched the design, and had bequeathed it, still
rude, to his son and successor Barbesieux. By Barbesieux the plan
was perfected. The execution was entrusted to an officer named
Grandval. Grandval was undoubtedly brave, and full of zeal for
his country and his religion. He was indeed flighty and half
witted, but not on that account the less dangerous. Indeed a
flighty and half witted man is the very instrument generally
preferred by cunning politicians when very hazardous work is to
be done. No shrewd calculator would, for any bribe, however
enormous, have exposed himself to the fate of Chatel, of
Ravaillac, or of Gerarts.314

Grandval secured, as he conceived, the assistance of two
adventurers, Dumont, a Walloon, and Leefdale, a Dutchman. In
April, soon after William had arrived in the Low Countries, the
murderers were directed to repair to their post. Dumont was then
in Westphalia. Grandval and Leefdale were at Paris. Uden in North
Brabant was fixed as the place where the three were to meet and
whence they were to proceed together to the headquarters of the
allies. Before Grandval left Paris he paid a visit to Saint
Germains, and was presented to James and to Mary of Modena. "I
have been informed," said James, "of the business. If you and
your companions do me this service, you shall never want."

After this audience Grandval set out on his journey. He had not
the faintest suspicion that he had been betrayed both by the
accomplice who accompanied him and by the accomplice whom he was
going to meet. Dumont and Leefdale were not enthusiasts. They
cared nothing for the restoration of James, the grandeur of
Lewis, or the ascendency of the Church of Rome. It was plain to
every man of common sense that, whether the design succeeded or
failed, the reward of the assassins would probably be to be
disowned, with affected abhorrence, by the Courts of Versailles
and Saint Germains, and to be torn with redhot pincers, smeared
with melted lead, and dismembered by four horses. To vulgar
natures the prospect of such a martyrdom was not alluring. Both
these men, therefore, had, almost at the same time, though, as
far as appears, without any concert, conveyed to William, through
different channels, warnings that his life was in danger. Dumont
had acknowledged every thing to the Duke of Zell, one of the
confederate princes. Leefdale had transmitted full intelligence
through his relations who resided in Holland. Meanwhile Morel, a
Swiss Protestant of great learning who was then in France, wrote
to inform Burnet that the weak and hotheaded Grandval had been
heard to talk boastfully of the event which would soon astonish
the world, and had confidently predicted that the Prince of
Orange would not live to the end of the next month.

These cautions were not neglected. From the moment at which
Grandval entered the Netherlands, his steps were among snares.
His movements were watched; his words were noted; he was
arrested, examined, confronted with his accomplices, and sent to
the camp of the allies. About a week after the battle of
Steinkirk he was brought before a Court Martial. Ginkell, who had
been rewarded for his great services in Ireland with the title of
Earl of Athlone, presided; and Talmash was among the judges.
Mackay and Lanier had been named members of the board; but they
were no more; and their places were filled by younger officers.

The duty of the Court Martial was very simple; for the prisoner
attempted no defence. His conscience had, it should seem, been
suddenly awakened. He admitted, with expressions of remorse, the
truth of all the charges, made a minute, and apparently an
ingenuous, confession, and owned that he had deserved death. He
was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, and underwent
his punishment with great fortitude and with a show of piety. He
left behind him a few lines, in which he declared that he was
about to lose his life for having too faithfully obeyed the
injunctions of Barbesieux.

His confession was immediately published in several languages,
and was read with very various and very strong emotions. That it
was genuine could not be doubted; for it was warranted by the
signatures of some of the most distinguished military men living.
That it was prompted by the hope of pardon could hardly be
supposed; for William had taken pains to discourage that hope.
Still less could it be supposed that the prisoner had uttered
untruths in order to avoid the torture. For, though it was the
universal practice in the Netherlands to put convicted assassins
to the rack in order to wring out from them the names of their
employers and associates, William had given orders that, on this
occasion, the rack should not be used or even named. It should be
added, that the Court did not interrogate the prisoner closely,
but suffered him to tell his story in his own way. It is
therefore reasonable to believe that his narrative is
substantially true; and no part of it has a stronger air of truth
than his account of the audience with which James had honoured
him at Saint Germains.

In our island the sensation produced by the news was great. The
Whigs loudly called both James and Lewis assassins. How, it was
asked, was it possible, without outraging common sense, to put an
innocent meaning on the words which Grandval declared that he had
heard from the lips of the banished King of England? And who that
knew the Court of Versailles would believe that Barbesieux, a
youth, a mere novice in politics, and rather a clerk than a
minister, would have dared to do what he had done without taking
his master's pleasure? Very charitable and very ignorant persons
might perhaps indulge a hope that Lewis had not been an accessory
before the fact. But that he was an accessory after the fact no
human being could doubt. He must have seen the proceedings of the
Court Martial, the evidence, the confession. If he really
abhorred assassination as honest men abhor it, would not
Barbesieux have been driven with ignominy from the royal
presence, and flung into the Bastile? Yet Barbesieux was still at
the War Office; and it was not pretended that he had been
punished even by a word or a frown. It was plain, then, that both
Kings were partakers in the guilt of Grandval. And if it were
asked how two princes who made a high profession of religion
could have fallen into such wickedness, the answer was that they
had learned their religion from the Jesuits. In reply to these
reproaches the English Jacobites said very little; and the French
government said nothing at all.315

The campaign in the Netherlands ended without any other event
deserving to be recorded. On the eighteenth of October William
arrived in England. Late in the evening of the twentieth he
reached Kensington, having traversed the whole length of the
capital. His reception was cordial. The crowd was great; the
acclamations were loud; and all the windows along his route, from
Aldgate to Piccadilly, were lighted up.316

But, notwithstanding these favourable symptoms, the nation was
disappointed and discontented. The war had been unsuccessful by
land. By sea a great advantage had been gained, but had not been
improved. The general expectation had been that the victory of
May would be followed by a descent on the coast of France, that
Saint Maloes would he bombarded, that the last remains of
Tourville's squadron would be destroyed, and that the arsenals of
Brest and Rochefort would be laid in ruins. This expectation was,
no doubt, unreasonable. It did not follow, because Rooke and his
seamen had silenced the batteries hastily thrown up by
Bellefonds, that it would be safe to expose ships to the fire of
regular fortresses. The government, however, was not less
sanguine than the nation. Great preparations were made. The
allied fleet, having been speedily refitted at Portsmouth, stood
out again to sea. Rooke was sent to examine the soundings and the
currents along the shore of Brittany.317 Transports were
collected at Saint Helens. Fourteen thousand troops were
assembled on Portsdown under the command of Meinhart Schomberg,
who had been rewarded for his father's services and his own with
the highest rank in the Irish peerage, and was now Duke of
Leinster. Under him were Ruvigny, who, for his good service at
Aghrim, had been created Earl of Galway, La Melloniere and Cambon
with their gallant bands of refugees, and Argyle with the
regiment which bore his name, and which, as it began to be
rumoured, had last winter done something strange and horrible in
a wild country of rocks and snow, never yet explored by any

On the twenty-sixth of July the troops were all on board. The
transports sailed, and in a few hours joined the naval armament
in the neighbourhood of Portland. On the twenty-eighth a general
council of war was held. All the naval commanders, with Russell
at their head, declared that it would be madness to carry their
ships within the range of the guns of Saint Maloes, and that the
town must be reduced to straits by land before the men of war in
the harbour could, with any chance of success, be attacked from
the sea. The military men declared with equal unanimity that the
land forces could effect nothing against the town without the
cooperation of the fleet. It was then considered whether it would
be advisable to make an attempt on Brest or Rochefort. Russell
and the other flag officers, among whom were Rooke, Shovel,
Almonde and Evertsen, pronounced that the summer was too far
spent for either enterprise.318 We must suppose that an opinion
in which so many distinguished admirals, both English and Dutch,
concurred, however strange it may seem to us, was in conformity
with what were then the established principles of the art of
maritime war. But why all these questions could not have been
fully discussed a week earlier, why fourteen thousand troops
should have been shipped and sent to sea, before it had been
considered what they were to do, or whether it would be possible
for them to do any thing, we may reasonably wonder. The armament
returned to Saint Helens, to the astonishment and disgust of the
whole nation.319 The ministers blamed the commanders; the
commanders blamed the ministers. The recriminations exchanged
between Nottingham and Russell were loud and angry. Nottingham,
honest, industrious, versed in civil business, and eloquent in
parliamentary debate, was deficient in the qualities of a war
minister, and was not at all aware of his deficiencies. Between
him and the whole body of professional sailors there was a feud
of long standing. He had, some time before the Revolution, been a
Lord of the Admiralty; and his own opinion was that he had then
acquired a profound knowledge of maritime affairs. This opinion
however he had very much to himself. Men who had passed half
their lives on the waves, and who had been in battles, storms and
shipwrecks, were impatient of his somewhat pompous lectures and
reprimands, and pronounced him a mere pedant, who, with all his
book learning, was ignorant of what every cabin boy knew. Russell
had always been froward, arrogant and mutinous; and now
prosperity and glory brought out his vices in full strength. With
the government which he had saved he took all the liberties of an
insolent servant who believes himself to be necessary, treated
the orders of his superiors with contemptuous levity, resented
reproof, however gentle, as an outrage, furnished no plan of his
own, and showed a sullen determination to execute no plan
furnished by any body else. To Nottingham he had a strong and a
very natural antipathy. They were indeed an ill matched pair.
Nottingham was a Tory; Russell was a Whig. Nottingham was a
speculative seaman, confident in his theories. Russell was a
practical seaman, proud of his achievements. The strength of
Nottingham lay in speech; the strength of Russell lay in action.
Nottingham's demeanour was decorous even to formality; Russell
was passionate and rude. Lastly Nottingham was an honest man; and
Russell was a villain. They now became mortal enemies. The
Admiral sneered at the Secretary's ignorance of naval affairs;
the Secretary accused the Admiral of sacrificing the public
interests to mere wayward humour; and both were in the right.320

While they were wrangling, the merchants of all the ports in the
kingdom raised a cry against the naval administration. The
victory of which the nation was so proud was, in the City,
pronounced to have been a positive disaster. During some months
before the battle all the maritime strength of the enemy had
been collected in two great masses, one in the Mediterranean and
one in the Atlantic. There had consequently been little
privateering; and the voyage to New England or Jamaica had been
almost as safe as in time of peace. Since the battle, the remains
of the force which had lately been collected under Tourville were
dispersed over the ocean. Even the passage from England to
Ireland was insecure. Every week it was announced that twenty,
thirty, fifty vessels belonging to London or Bristol had been
taken by the French. More than a hundred prices were carried
during that autumn into Saint Maloes alone. It would have been
far better, in the opinion of the shipowners and of the
underwriters, that the Royal Sun had still been afloat with her
thousand fighting men on board than that she should be lying a
heap of ashes on the beach at Cherburg, while her crew,
distributed among twenty brigantines, prowled for booty over the
sea between Cape Finisterre and Cape Clear.321

The privateers of Dunkirk had long been celebrated; and among
them, John Bart, humbly born, and scarcely able to sign his name,
but eminently brave and active, had attained an undisputed
preeminence. In the country of Anson and Hawke, of Howe and
Rodney, of Duncan, Saint Vincent and Nelson, the name of the most
daring and skilful corsair would have little chance of being
remembered. But France, among whose many unquestioned titles to
glory very few are derived from naval war, still ranks Bart among
her great men. In the autumn of 1692 this enterprising freebooter
was the terror of all the English and Dutch merchants who traded
with the Baltic. He took and destroyed vessels close to the
eastern coast of our island. He even ventured to land in
Northumberland, and burned many houses before the trainbands
could be collected to oppose him. The prizes which he carried
back into his native port were estimated at about a hundred
thousand pounds sterling.322 About the same time a younger
adventurer, destined to equal or surpass Bart, Du Guay Trouin,
was entrusted with the command of a small armed vessel. The
intrepid boy,--for he was not yet twenty years old,--entered the
estuary of the Shannon, sacked a mansion in the county of Clare,
and did not reimbark till a detachment from the garrison of
Limerick marched against him.323

While our trade was interrupted and our shores menaced by these
rovers, some calamities which no human prudence could have
averted increased the public ill humour. An earthquake of
terrible violence laid waste in less than three minutes the
flourishing colony of Jamaica. Whole plantations changed their
place. Whole villages were swallowed up. Port Royal, the fairest
and wealthiest city which the English had yet built in the New
World, renowned for its quays, for its warehouses, and for its
stately streets, which were said to rival Cheapside, was turned
into a mass of ruins. Fifteen hundred of the inhabitants were
buried under their own dwellings. The effect of this disaster was
severely felt by many of the great mercantile houses of London
and Bristol.324

A still heavier calamity was the failure of the harvest. The
summer had been wet all over Western Europe. Those heavy rains
which had impeded the exertions of the French pioneers in the
trenches of Namur had been fatal to the crops. Old men remembered
no such year since 1648. No fruit ripened. The price of the
quarter of wheat doubled. The evil was aggravated by the state of
the silver coin, which had been clipped to such an extent that
the words pound and shilling had ceased to have a fixed meaning.
Compared with France indeed England might well be esteemed
prosperous. Here the public burdens were heavy; there they were
crushing. Here the labouring man was forced to husband his coarse
barley loaf; but there it not seldom happened that the wretched
peasant was found dead on the earth with halfchewed grass in his
mouth. Our ancestors found some consolation in thinking that they
were gradually wearing out the strength of their formidable
enemy, and that his resources were likely to be drained sooner
than theirs. Still there was much suffering and much repining. In
some counties mobs attacked the granaries. The necessity of
retrenchment was felt by families of every rank. An idle man of
wit and pleasure, who little thought that his buffoonery would
ever be cited to illustrate the history of his times, complained
that, in this year, wine ceased to be put on many hospitable
tables where he had been accustomed to see it, and that its place
was supplied by punch.325

A symptom of public distress much more alarming than the
substitution of brandy and lemons for claret was the increase of
crime. During the autumn of 1692 and the following winter, the
capital was kept in constant terror by housebreakers. One gang,
thirteen strong, entered the mansion of the Duke of Ormond in
Saint James's Square, and all but succeeded in carrying off his
magnificent plate and jewels. Another gang made an attempt on
Lambeth Palace.326 When stately abodes, guarded by numerous
servants, were in such danger, it may easily be believed that no
shopkeeper's till or stock could be safe. From Bow to Hyde Park,
from Thames Street to Bloomsbury, there was no parish in which
some quiet dwelling had not been sacked by burglars.327 Meanwhile
the great roads were made almost impassable by freebooters who
formed themselves into troops larger than had before been known.
There was a sworn fraternity of twenty footpads which met at
an alehouse in Southwark.328 But the most formidable band of
plunderers consisted of two and twenty horsemen.329 It should
seem that, at this time, a journey of fifty miles through the
wealthiest and most populous shires of England was as dangerous as
a pilgrimage across the deserts of Arabia. The Oxford stage coach
was pillaged in broad day after a bloody fight.330 A waggon laden
with fifteen thousand pounds of public money was stopped and
ransacked. As this operation took some time, all the travellers
who came to the spot while the thieves were busy were seized and
guarded. When the booty had been secured the prisoners were
suffered to depart on foot; but their horses, sixteen or eighteen
in number, were shot or hamstringed, to prevent pursuit.331 The
Portsmouth mail was robbed twice in one week by men well armed and
mounted.332 Some jovial Essex squires, while riding after a hare,
were themselves chased and run down by nine hunters of a different
sort, and were heartily glad to find themselves at home again,
though with empty pockets.333

The friends of the government asserted that the marauders were
all Jacobites; and indeed there were some appearances which gave
colour to the assertion. For example, fifteen butchers, going on
a market day to buy beasts at Thame, were stopped by a large
gang, and compelled first to deliver their moneybags, and then to
drink King James's health in brandy.334 The thieves, however, to
do them justice, showed, in the exercise of their calling, no
decided preference for any political party. Some of them fell in
with Marlborough near Saint Albans, and, notwithstanding his
known hostility to the Court and his recent imprisonment,
compelled him to deliver up five hundred guineas, which he
doubtless never ceased to regret to the last moment of his long
career of prosperity and glory.335

When William, on his return from the Continent, learned to what
an extent these outrages were carried, he expressed great
indignation, and announced his resolution to put down the
malefactors with a strong hand. A veteran robber was induced to
turn informer, and to lay before the King a list of the chief
highwaymen, and a full account of their habits and of their
favourite haunts. It was said that this list contained not less
than eighty names.336 Strong parties of cavalry were sent out to
protect the roads; and this precaution, which would, in ordinary
circumstances, have excited much murmuring, seems to have been
generally approved. A fine regiment, now called the Second
Dragoon Guards, which had distinguished itself in Ireland by
activity and success in the irregular war against the Rapparees,
was selected to guard several of the great avenues of the
capital. Blackheath, Barnet, Hounslow, became places of arms.337
In a few weeks the roads were as safe as usual. The executions
were numerous for, till the evil had been suppressed, the King
resolutely refused to listen to any solicitations for mercy.338
Among those who suffered was James Whitney, the most celebrated
captain of banditti in the kingdom. He had been, during some
months, the terror of all who travelled from London either
northward or westward, and was at length with difficulty secured
after a desperate conflict in which one soldier was killed and
several wounded.339 The London Gazette announced that the famous
highwayman had been taken, and invited all persons who had been
robbed by him to repair to Newgate and to see whether they could
identify him. To identify him should have been easy; for he had a
wound in the face, and had lost a thumb.340 He, however, in the
hope of perplexing the witnesses for the Crown, expended a
hundred pounds in procuring a sumptuous embroidered suit against
the day of trial. This ingenious device was frustrated by his
hardhearted keepers. He was put to the bar in his ordinary
clothes, convicted and sentenced to death.341 He had previously
tried to ransom himself by offering to raise a fine troop of
cavalry, all highwaymen, for service in Flanders; but his offer
had been rejected.342 He had one resource still left. He declared
that he was privy to a treasonable plot. Some Jacobite lords had
promised him immense rewards if he would, at the head of his
gang, fall upon the King at a stag hunt in Windsor Forest. There
was nothing intrinsically improbable in Whitney's story. Indeed a
design very similar to that which he imputed to the malecontents
was, only three years later, actually formed by some of them, and
was all but carried into execution. But it was far better that a
few bad men should go unpunished than that all honest men should
live in fear of being falsely accused by felons sentenced to the
gallows. Chief Justice Holt advised the King to let the law take
its course. William, never much inclined to give credit to stories
about conspiracies, assented. The Captain, as he was called, was
hanged in Smithfield, and made a most penitent end.343

Meanwhile, in the midst of discontent, distress and disorder, had
begun a session of Parliament singularly eventful, a session from
which dates a new era in the history of English finance, a
session in which some grave constitutional questions, not yet
entirely set at rest, were for the first time debated.

It is much to be lamented that any account of this session which
can be framed out of the scanty and dispersed materials now
accessible must leave many things obscure. The relations of the
parliamentary factions were, during this year, in a singularly
complicated state. Each of the two Houses was divided and
subdivided by several lines. To omit minor distinctions, there
was the great line which separated the Whig party from the Tory
party; and there was the great line which separated the official
men and their friends and dependents, who were sometimes called
the Court party, from those who were sometimes nicknamed the
Grumbletonians and sometimes honoured with the appellation of the
Country party. And these two great lines were intersecting lines.
For of the servants of the Crown and of their adherents about one
half were Whigs and one half Tories. It is also to be remembered
that there was, quite distinct from the feud between Whigs and
Tories, quite distinct also from the feud between those who were
in and those who were out, a feud between the Lords as Lords and
the Commons as Commons. The spirit both of the hereditary and of
the elective chamber had been thoroughly roused in the preceding
session by the dispute about the Court of the Lord High Steward;
and they met in a pugnacious mood.

The speech which the King made at the opening of the session was
skilfully framed for the purpose of conciliating the Houses. He
came, he told them, to ask for their advice and assistance. He
congratulated them on the victory of La Hogue. He acknowledged
with much concern that the operations of the allies had been less
successful by land than by sea; but he warmly declared that, both
by land and by sea, the valour of his English subjects had been
preeminently conspicuous. The distress of his people, he said,
was his own; his interest was inseparable from theirs; it was
painful to him to call on them to make sacrifices; but from
sacrifices which were necessary to the safety of the English
nation and of the Protestant religion no good Englishman and no
good Protestant would shrink.344

The Commons thanked the King in cordial terms for his gracious
speech.345 But the Lords were in a bad humour. Two of their body,
Marlborough and Huntingdon, had, during the recess, when an
invasion and an insurrection were hourly expected, been sent to
the Tower, and were still under recognisances. Had a country
gentleman or a merchant been taken up and held to bail on even
slighter grounds at so alarming a crisis, the Lords would
assuredly not have interfered. But they were easily moved to
anger by any thing that looked like an indignity offered to their
own order. They not only crossexamined with great severity Aaron
Smith, the Solicitor of the Treasury, whose character, to say the
truth, entitled him to little indulgence, but passed; by thirty-
five votes to twenty-eight, a resolution implying a censure on
the judges of the King's Bench, men certainly not inferior in
probity, and very far superior in legal learning, to any peer of
the realm. The King thought it prudent to soothe the wounded
pride of the nobility by ordering the recognisances to be
cancelled; and with this concession the House was satisfied, to
the great vexation of the Jacobites, who had hoped that the
quarrel would be prosecuted to some fatal issue, and who, finding
themselves disappointed, vented their spleen by railing at the
tameness of the degenerate barons of England.346

Both Houses held long and earnest deliberations on the state of
the nation. The King, when he requested their advice, had,
perhaps, not foreseen that his words would be construed into an
invitation to scrutinise every part of the administration, and to
offer suggestions touching matters which parliaments have
generally thought it expedient to leave entirely to the Crown.
Some of the discontented peers proposed that a Committee, chosen
partly by the Lords and partly by the Commons, should be
authorised to inquire into the whole management of public
affairs. But it was generally apprehended that such a Committee
would become a second and more powerful Privy Council,
independent of the Crown, and unknown to the Constitution. The
motion was therefore rejected by forty-eight votes to thirty-six.
On this occasion the ministers, with scarcely an exception, voted
in the majority. A protest was signed by eighteen of the
minority, among whom were the bitterest Whigs and the bitterest
Tories in the whole peerage.347

The Houses inquired, each for itself, into the causes of the
public calamities. The Commons resolved themselves into a Grand
Committee to consider of the advice to be given to the King. From
the concise abstracts and fragments which have come down to us it
seems that, in this Committee, which continued to sit many days,
the debates wandered over a vast space. One member spoke of the
prevalence of highway robbery; another deplored the quarrel
between the Queen and the Princess, and proposed that two or
three gentlemen should be deputed to wait on Her Majesty and try
to make matters up. A third described the machinations of the
Jacobites in the preceding spring. It was notorious, he said,
that preparations had been made for a rising, and that arms and
horses had been collected; yet not a single traitor had been
brought to justice.348

The events of the war by land and sea furnished matter for
several earnest debates. Many members complained of the
preference given to aliens over Englishmen. The whole battle of
Steinkirk was fought over again; and severe reflections were
thrown on Solmes. "Let English soldiers be commanded by none but
English generals," was the almost universal cry. Seymour, who had
once been distinguished by his hatred of the foreigners, but who,
since he had been at the Board of Treasury, had reconsidered his
opinions, asked where English generals were to be found. "I have
no love for foreigners as foreigners; but we have no choice. Men
are not born generals; nay, a man may be a very valuable captain
or major, and not be equal to the conduct of an army. Nothing but
experience will form great commanders. Very few of our countrymen
have that experience; and therefore we must for the present
employ strangers." Lowther followed on the same side. "We have
had a long peace; and the consequence is that we have not a
sufficient supply of officers fit for high commands. The parks
and the camp at Hounslow were very poor military schools, when
compared with the fields of battle and the lines of
contravallation in which the great commanders of the continental
nations have learned their art." In reply to these arguments an
orator on the other side was so absurd as to declare that he
could point out ten Englishmen who, if they were in the French
service, would be made Marshals. Four or five colonels who had
been at Steinkirk took part in the debate. It was said of them
that they showed as much modesty in speech as they had shown
courage in action; and, from the very imperfect report which has
come down to us, the compliment seems to have been not
undeserved. They did not join in the vulgar cry against the
Dutch. They spoke well of the foreign officers generally, and did
full justice to the valour and conduct with which Auverquerque
had rescued the shattered remains of Mackay's division from what
seemed certain destruction. But in defence of Solmes not a word
was said. His severity, his haughty manners, and, above all, the
indifference with which he had looked on while the English, borne
down by overwhelming numbers, were fighting hand to hand with the
French household troops, had made him so odious that many members
were prepared to vote for an address requesting that he might be
removed, and that his place might be filled by Talmash, who,
since the disgrace of Marlborough, was universally allowed to be
the best officer in the army. But Talmash's friends judiciously
interfered. "I have," said one of them, "a true regard for that
gentleman; and I implore you not to do him an injury under the
notion of doing him a kindness. Consider that you are usurping
what is peculiarly the King's prerogative. You are turning
officers out and putting officers in." The debate ended without
any vote of censure on Solmes. But a hope was expressed, in
language not very parliamentary, that what had been said in the
Committee would be reported to the King, and that His Majesty
would not disregard the general wish of the representatives of
his people.349

The Commons next proceeded to inquire into the naval
administration, and very soon came to a quarrel with the Lords on
that subject. That there had been mismanagement somewhere was
but too evident. It was hardly possible to acquit both Russell
and Nottingham; and each House stood by its own member. The
Commons had, at the opening of the session, unanimously passed a
vote of thanks to Russell for his conduct at La Hogue. They now,
in the Grand Committee of Advice, took into consideration the
miscarriages which had followed the battle. A motion was made so
vaguely worded that it could hardly be said to mean any thing. It
was understood however to imply a censure on Nottingham, and was
therefore strongly opposed by his friends. On the division the
Ayes were a hundred and sixty-five, the Noes a hundred and sixty-

On the very next day Nottingham appealed to the Lords. He told
his story with all the skill of a practised orator, and with all
the authority which belongs to unblemished integrity. He then
laid on the table a great mass of papers, which he requested the
House to read and consider. The Peers seem to have examined the
papers seriously and diligently. The result of the examination
was by no means favourable to Russell. Yet it was thought unjust
to condemn him unheard; and it was difficult to devise any way in
which their Lordships could hear him. At last it was resolved to
send the papers down to the Commons with a message which imported
that, in the opinion of the Upper House, there was a case against
the Admiral which he ought to be called upon to answer. With the
papers was sent an abstract of the contents.351

The message was not very respectfully received. Russell had, at
that moment, a popularity which he little deserved, but which
will not surprise us when we remember that the public knew
nothing of his treasons, and knew that he was the only living
Englishman who had won a great battle. The abstract of the papers
was read by the clerk. Russell then spoke with great applause;
and his friends pressed for an immediate decision. Sir
Christopher Musgrave very justly observed that it was impossible
to pronounce judgment on such a pile of despatches without
perusing them; but this objection was overruled. The Whigs
regarded the accused member as one of themselves; many of the
Tories were dazzled by the splendour of his recent victory; and
neither Whigs nor Tories were disposed to show any deference for
the authority of the Peers. The House, without reading the
papers, passed an unanimous resolution expressing warm
approbation of Russell's whole conduct. The temper of the
assembly was such that some ardent Whigs thought that they might
now venture to propose a vote of censure on Nottingham by name.
But the attempt failed. "I am ready," said Lowther,--and he
doubtless expressed what many felt,--"I am ready to support any
motion that may do honour to the Admiral; but I cannot join in an
attack on the Secretary of State. For, to my knowledge, their
Majesties have no more zealous, laborious or faithful servant
than my Lord Nottingham." Finch exerted all his mellifluous
eloquence in defence of his brother, and contrived, without
directly opposing himself to the prevailing sentiment, to
insinuate that Russell's conduct had not been faultless. The vote
of censure on Nottingham was not pressed. The vote which
pronounced Russell's conduct to have been deserving of all praise
was communicated to the Lords; and the papers which they had sent
down were very unceremoniously returned.352 The Lords, much
offended, demanded a free conference. It was granted; and the
managers of the two Houses met in the Painted Chamber. Rochester,
in the name of his brethren, expressed a wish to be informed of
the grounds on which the Admiral had been declared faultless. To
this appeal the gentlemen who stood on the other side of the
table answered only that they had not been authorised to give any
explanation, but that they would report to those who had sent
them what had been said.353

By this time the Commons were thoroughly tired of the inquiry
into the conduct of the war. The members had got rid of much of
the ill humour which they had brought up with them from their
country seats by the simple process of talking it away. Burnet
hints that those arts of which Caermarthen and Trevor were the
great masters were employed for the purpose of averting votes
which would have seriously embarrassed the government. But,
though it is not improbable that a few noisy pretenders to
patriotism may have been quieted with bags of guineas, it would
be absurd to suppose that the House generally was influenced in
this manner. Whoever has seen anything of such assemblies knows
that the spirit with which they enter on long inquiries very soon
flags, and that their resentment, if not kept alive by
injudicious opposition, cools fast. In a short time every body
was sick of the Grand Committee of Advice. The debates had been
tedious and desultory. The resolutions which had been carried
were for the most part merely childish. The King was to be humbly
advised to employ men of ability and integrity. He was to be
humbly advised to employ men who would stand by him against
James. The patience of the House was wearied out by long
discussions ending in the pompous promulgation of truisms like
these. At last the explosion came. One of the grumblers called
the attention of the Grand Committee to the alarming fact that
two Dutchmen were employed in the Ordnance department, and moved
that the King should be humbly advised to dismiss them. The
motion was received with disdainful mockery. It was remarked that
the military men especially were loud in the expression of
contempt. "Do we seriously think of going to the King and
telling him that, as he has condescended to ask our advice at
this momentous crisis, we humbly advise him to turn a Dutch
storekeeper out of the Tower? Really, if we have no more
important suggestion to carry up to the throne, we may as well go
to our dinners." The members generally were of the same mind. The
chairman was voted out of the chair, and was not directed to ask
leave to sit again. The Grand Committee ceased to exist. The
resolutions which it had passed were formally reported to the
House. One of them was rejected; the others were suffered to
drop; and the Commons, after considering during several weeks
what advice they should give to the King, ended by giving him no
advice at all.354

The temper of the Lords was different. From many circumstances it
appears that there was no place where the Dutch were, at this
time, so much hated as in the Upper House. The dislike with which
an Englishman of the middle class regarded the King's foreign
friends was merely national. But the dislike with which an
English nobleman regarded them was personal. They stood between
him and Majesty. They intercepted from him the rays of royal
favour. The preference given to them wounded him both in his
interests and in his pride. His chance of the Garter was much
smaller since they had become his competitors. He might have been
Master of the Horse but for Auverquerque, Master of the Robes but
for Zulestein, Groom of the Stole but for Bentinck.355 The ill
humour of the aristocracy was inflamed by Marlborough, who, at
this time, affected the character of a patriot persecuted for
standing up against the Dutch in defence of the interests of his
native land, and who did not foresee that a day would come when
he would be accused of sacrificing the interests of his native
land to gratify the Dutch. The Peers determined to present an
address, requesting William not to place his English troops under
the command of a foreign general. They took up very seriously
that question which had moved the House of Commons to laughter,
and solemnly counselled their Sovereign not to employ foreigners
in his magazines. At Marlborough's suggestion they urged the King
to insist that the youngest English general should take
precedence of the oldest general in the service of the States
General. It was, they said, derogatory to the dignity of the
Crown, that an officer who held a commission from His Majesty
should ever be commanded by an officer who held a similar
commission from a republic. To this advice, evidently dictated by
an ignoble malevolence to Holland, William, who troubled himself
little about votes of the Upper House which were not backed by
the Lower, returned, as might have been expected, a very short
and dry answer.356

While the inquiry into the conduct of the war was pending, the
Commons resumed the consideration of an important subject which
had occupied much of their attention in the preceding year. The
Bill for the Regulation of Trials in cases of High Treason was
again brought in, but was strongly opposed by the official men,
both Whigs and Tories. Somers, now Attorney General, strongly
recommended delay. That the law, as it stood, was open to grave
objections, was not denied; but it was contended that the
proposed reform would, at that moment, produce more harm than
good. Nobody would assert that, under the existing government,
the lives of innocent subjects were in any danger. Nobody would
deny that the government itself was in great danger. Was it the
part of wise men to increase the perils of that which was already
in serious peril for the purpose of giving new security to that
which was already perfectly secure? Those who held this language
were twitted with their inconsistency, and asked why they had not
ventured to oppose the bill in the preceding session. They
answered very plausibly that the events which had taken place
during the recess had taught an important lesson to all who were
capable of learning. The country had been threatened at once with
invasion and insurrection. No rational man doubted that many
traitors had made preparations for joining the French, and had
collected arms, ammunition and horses for that purpose. Yet,
though there was abundant moral evidence against these enemies of
their country, it had not been possible to find legal evidence
against a single one of them. The law of treason might, in
theory, be harsh, and had undoubtedly, in times past, been
grossly abused. But a statesman who troubled himself less about
theory than about practice, and less about times past than about
the time present, would pronounce that law not too stringent but
too lax, and would, while the commonwealth remained in extreme
jeopardy, refuse to consent to any further relaxation. In spite
of all opposition, however, the principle of the bill was
approved by one hundred and seventy-one votes to one hundred and
fifty-two. But in the committee it was moved and carried that the
new rules of procedure should not come into operation till after
the end of the war with France. When the report was brought up
the House divided on this amendment, and ratified it by a hundred
and forty-five votes to a hundred and twenty-five. The bill was
consequently suffered to drop.357 Had it gone up to the Peers it
would in all probability have been lost after causing another
quarrel between the Houses. For the Peers were fully determined
that no such bill should pass, unless it contained a clause
altering the constitution of the Lord High Steward's Court; and a
clause altering the constitution of the Lord High Steward's Court
would have been less likely than ever to find favour with the
Commons. For in the course of this session an event took place
which proved that the great were only too well protected by the
law as it stood, and which well deserves to be recorded as a
striking illustration of the state of manners and morals in that

Of all the actors who were then on the English stage the most
graceful was William Mountford. He had every physical
qualification for his calling, a noble figure, a handsome face, a
melodious voice. It was not easy to say whether he succeeded
better in heroic or in ludicrous parts. He was allowed to be both
the best Alexander and the best Sir Courtly Nice that ever trod
the boards. Queen Mary, whose knowledge was very superficial, but
who had naturally a quick perception of what was excellent in
art, admired him greatly. He was a dramatist as well as a player,
and has left us one comedy which is not contemptible.358

The most popular actress of the time was Anne Bracegirdle. There
were on the stage many women of more faultless beauty, but none
whose features and deportment had such power to fascinate the
senses and the hearts of men. The sight of her bright black eyes
and of her rich brown cheek sufficed to put the most turbulent
audience into good humour. It was said of her that in the crowded
theatre she had as many lovers as she had male spectators. Yet no
lover, however rich, however high in rank, had prevailed on her
to be his mistress. Those who are acquainted with the parts which
she was in the habit of playing, and with the epilogues which it
was her especial business to recite, will not easily give her
credit for any extraordinary measure of virtue or of delicacy.
She seems to have been a cold, vain and interested coquette, who
perfectly understood how much the influence of her charms was
increased by the fame of a severity which cost her nothing, and
who could venture to flirt with a succession of admirers in the
just confidence that no flame which she might kindle in them
would thaw her own ice.359 Among those who pursued her with an
insane desire was a profligate captain in the army named Hill.
With Hill was closely bound in a league of debauchery and
violence Charles Lord Mohun, a young nobleman whose life was one
long revel and brawl. Hill, finding that the beautiful brunette
was invincible, took it into his head that he was rejected for a
more favoured rival, and that this rival was the brilliant
Mountford. The jealous lover swore over his wine at a tavern that
he would stab the villain. "And I," said Mohun, "will stand by my
friend." From the tavern the pair went, with some soldiers whose
services Hill had secured, to Drury Lane where the lady resided.
They lay some time in wait for her. As soon as she appeared in
the street she was seized and hurried to a coach. She screamed
for help; her mother clung round her; the whole neighbourhood
rose; and she was rescued. Hill and Mohun went away vowing
vengeance. They swaggered sword in hand during two hours about
the streets near Mountford's dwelling. The watch requested them
to put up their weapons. But when the young lord announced that
he was a peer, and bade the constables touch him if they durst,
they let him pass. So strong was privilege then; and so weak was
law. Messengers were sent to warn Mountford of his danger; but
unhappily they missed him. He came. A short altercation took
place between him and Mohun; and, while they were wrangling, Hill
ran the unfortunate actor through the body, and fled.

The grand jury of Middlesex, consisting of gentlemen of note,
found a bill of murder against Hill and Mohun. Hill escaped.
Mohun was taken. His mother threw herself at William's feet, but
in vain. "It was a cruel act," said the King; "I shall leave it
to the law." The trial came on in the Court of the Lord High
Steward; and, as Parliament happened to be sitting, the culprit
had the advantage of being judged by the whole body of the
peerage. There was then no lawyer in the Upper House. It
therefore became necessary, for the first time since Buckhurst
had pronounced sentence on Essex and Southampton, that a peer who
had never made jurisprudence his special study should preside
over that grave tribunal. Caermarthen, who, as Lord President,
took precedence of all the nobility, was appointed Lord High
Steward. A full report of the proceedings has come down to us. No
person, who carefully examines that report, and attends to the
opinion unanimously given by the judges in answer to a question
which Nottingham drew up, and in which the facts brought out by
the evidence are stated with perfect fairness, can doubt that the
crime of murder was fully brought home to the prisoner. Such was
the opinion of the King who was present during the trial; and
such was the almost unanimous opinion of the public. Had the
issue been tried by Holt and twelve plain men at the Old Bailey,
there can be no doubt that a verdict of Guilty would have been
returned. The Peers, however, by sixty-nine votes to fourteen,
acquitted their accused brother. One great nobleman was so brutal
and stupid as to say, "After all the fellow was but a player; and
players are rogues." All the newsletters, all the coffeehouse
orators, complained that the blood of the poor was shed with
impunity by the great. Wits remarked that the only fair thing
about the trial was the show of ladies in the galleries. Letters
and journals are still extant in which men of all shades of
opinion, Whigs, Tories, Nonjurors, condemn the partiality of the
tribunal. It was not to be expected that, while the memory of
this scandal was fresh in the public mind, the Commons would be
induced to give any new advantage to accused peers.360

The Commons had, in the meantime, resumed the consideration of
another highly important matter, the state of the trade with
India. They had, towards the close of the preceding session,
requested the King to dissolve the old Company and to constitute
a new Company on such terms as he should think fit; and he had
promised to take their request into his serious consideration. He
now sent a message to inform them that it was out of his power to
do what they had asked. He had referred the charter of the old
Company to the Judges, and the judges had pronounced that, under
the provisions of that charter, the old Company could not be
dissolved without three years' notice, and must retain during
those three years the exclusive privilege of trading to the East
Indies. He added that, being sincerely desirous to gratify the
Commons, and finding himself unable to do so in the way which they
had pointed out, he had tried to prevail on the old Company to
agree to a compromise; but that body stood obstinately on its
extreme rights; and his endeavours had been frustrated.361

This message reopened the whole question. The two factions which
divided the City were instantly on the alert. The debates in the
House were long and warm. Petitions against the old Company were
laid on the table. Satirical handbills against the new Company
were distributed in the lobby. At length, after much discussion,
it was resolved to present an address requesting the King to give
the notice which the judges had pronounced necessary. He promised
to bear the subject in mind, and to do his best to promote the
welfare of the kingdom. With this answer the House was satisfied,
and the subject was not again mentioned till the next session.362

The debates of the Commons on the conduct of the war, on the law
of treason and on the trade with India, occupied much time, and
produced no important result. But meanwhile real business was
doing in the Committee of Supply and the Committee of Ways and
Means. In the Committee of Supply the estimates passed rapidly. A
few members declared it to be their opinion that England ought to
withdraw her troops from the Continent, to carry on the war with
vigour by sea, and to keep up only such an army as might be
sufficient to repel any invader who might elude the vigilance of
her fleets. But this doctrine, which speedily became and long
continued to be the badge of one of the great parties in the
state, was as yet professed only by a small minority which did
not venture to call for a division.363

In the Committee of Ways and Means, it was determined that a
great part of the charge of the year should be defrayed by means
of an impost, which, though old in substance, was new in form.
From a very early period to the middle of the seventeenth
century, our Parliaments had provided for the extraordinary
necessities of the government chiefly by granting subsidies. A
subsidy was raised by an impost on the people of the realm in
respect of their reputed estates. Landed property was the chief
subject of taxation, and was assessed nominally at four shillings
in the pound. But the assessment was made in such a way that it
not only did not rise in proportion to the rise in the value of
land or to the fall in the value of the precious metals, but went
on constantly sinking, till at length the rate was in truth less
than twopence in the pound. In the time of Charles the First a
real tax of four shillings in the pound on land would probably
have yielded near a million and a half; but a subsidy amounted to
little more than fifty thousand pounds.364

The financiers of the Long Parliament devised a more efficient
mode of taxing estates. The sum which was to be raised was fixed.
It was then distributed among the counties in proportion to their
supposed wealth, and was levied within each county by a rate. The
revenue derived from these assessments in the time of the
Commonwealth varied from thirty-five thousand pounds to a hundred
and twenty thousand pounds a month.

After the Restoration the legislature seemed for a time inclined
to revert, in finance as in other things, to the ancient
practice. Subsidies were once or twice granted to Charles the
Second. But it soon appeared that the old system was much less
convenient than the new system. The Cavaliers condescended to
take a lesson in the art of taxation from the Roundheads; and,
during the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution,
extraordinary calls were occasionally met by assessments
resembling the assessments of the Commonwealth. After the
Revolution, the war with France made it necessary to have
recourse annually to this abundant source of revenue. In 1689, in
1690 and in 1691, great sums had been raised on the land. At
length in 1692 it was determined to draw supplies from real
property more largely than ever. The Commons resolved that a new
and more accurate valuation of estates should be made over the
whole realm, and that on the rental thus ascertained a pound rate
should be paid to the government.

Such was the origin of the existing land tax. The valuation made
in 1692 has remained unaltered down to our own time. According to
that valuation, one shilling in the pound on the rental of the
kingdom amounted, in round numbers, to half a million. During a
hundred and six years, a land tax bill was annually presented to
Parliament, and was annually passed, though not always without
murmurs from the country gentlemen. The rate was, in time of war,
four shillings in the pound. In time of peace, before the reign
of George the Third, only two or three shillings were usually
granted; and, during a short part of the prudent and gentle
administration of Walpole, the government asked for only one
shilling. But, after the disastrous year in which England drew
the sword against her American colonies, the rate was never less
than four shillings. At length, in the year 1798, the Parliament
relieved itself from the trouble of passing a new Act every
spring. The land tax, at four shillings in the pound, was made
permanent; and those who were subject to it were permitted to
redeem it. A great part has been redeemed; and at present little
more than a fiftieth of the ordinary revenue required in time of
peace is raised by that impost which was once regarded as the
most productive of all the resources of the State.365

The land tax was fixed, for the year 1693, at four shillings in
the pound, and consequently brought about two millions into the
Treasury. That sum, small as it may seem to a generation which
has expended a hundred and twenty millions in twelve months, was
such as had never before been raised here in one year by direct
taxation. It seemed immense both to Englishmen and to foreigners.
Lewis, who found it almost impossible to wring by cruel exactions
from the beggared peasantry of France the means of supporting the
greatest army and the most gorgeous court that had existed in
Europe since the downfall of the Roman empire, broke out, it is
said, into an exclamation of angry surprise when he learned that
the Commons of England had, from dread and hatred of his power,
unanimously determined to lay on themselves, in a year of
scarcity and of commercial embarrassment, a burden such as
neither they nor their fathers had ever before borne. "My little
cousin of Orange," he said, "seems to be firm in the saddle." He
afterwards added: "No matter, the last piece of gold will win."
This however was a consideration from which, if he had been well
informed touching the resources of England, he would not have
derived much comfort. Kensington was certainly a mere hovel when
compared to his superb Versailles. The display of jewels, plumes
and lace, led horses and gilded coaches, which daily surrounded
him, far outshone the splendour which, even on great public
occasions, our princes were in the habit of displaying. But the
condition of the majority of the people of England was, beyond
all doubt, such as the majority of the people of France might
well have envied. In truth what was called severe distress here
would have been called unexampled prosperity there.

The land tax was not imposed without a quarrel between the
Houses. The Commons appointed commissioners to make the
assessment. These commissioners were the principal gentlemen of
every county, and were named in the bill. The Lords thought this
arrangement inconsistent with the dignity of the peerage. They
therefore inserted a clause providing that their estates should
be valued by twenty of their own order. The Lower House
indignantly rejected this amendment, and demanded an instant
conference. After some delay, which increased the ill humour of
the Commons, the conference took place. The bill was returned to
the Peers with a very concise and haughty intimation that they
must not presume to alter laws relating to money. A strong party
among the Lords was obstinate. Mulgrave spoke at great length
against the pretensions of the plebeians. He told his brethren
that, if they gave way, they would abdicate that authority which
had belonged to the baronage of England ever since the foundation
of the monarchy, and that they would have nothing left of their
old greatness except their coronets and ermines. Burnet says that
this speech was the finest that he ever heard in Parliament; and
Burnet was undoubtedly a good judge of speaking, and was neither
partial to Mulgrave nor zealous for the privileges of the
aristocracy. The orator, however, though he charmed his hearers,
did not succeed in convincing them. Most of them shrank from a
conflict in which they would have had against them the Commons
united as one man, and the King, who, in case of necessity, would
undoubtedly have created fifty peers rather than have suffered
the land tax bill to be lost. Two strong protests, however,
signed, the first by twenty-seven, the second by twenty-one
dissentients, show how obstinately many nobles were prepared to
contend at all hazards for the dignity of their caste. Another
conference was held; and Rochester announced that the Lords, for
the sake of the public interest, waived what they must
nevertheless assert to be their clear right, and would not insist
on their amendment.366 The bill passed, and was followed by bills
for laying additional duties on imports, and for taxing the
dividends of joint stock companies.

Still, however, the estimated revenue was not equal to the
estimated expenditure. The year 1692 had bequeathed a large
deficit to the year 1693; and it seemed probable that the charge
for 1693 would exceed by about five hundred thousand pounds the
charge for 1692. More than two millions had been voted for the
army and ordnance, near two millions for the navy.367 Only eight
years before fourteen hundred thousand pounds had defrayed the
whole annual charge of government. More than four times that sum
was now required. Taxation, both direct and indirect, had been
carried to an unprecedented point; yet the income of the state
still fell short of the outlay by about a million. It was
necessary to devise something. Something was devised, something
of which the effects are felt to this day in every part of the

There was indeed nothing strange or mysterious in the expedient
to which the government had recourse. It was an expedient
familiar, during two centuries, to the financiers of the
Continent, and could hardly fail to occur to any English
statesman who compared the void in the Exchequer with the
overflow in the money market.

During the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution
the riches of the nation had been rapidly increasing. Thousands
of busy men found every Christmas that, after the expenses of the
year's housekeeping had been defrayed out of the year's income, a
surplus remained; and how that surplus was to be employed was a
question of some difficulty. In our time, to invest such a
surplus, at something more than three per cent., on the best
security that has ever been known in the world, is the work of a
few minutes. But in the seventeenth century a lawyer, a
physician, a retired merchant, who had saved some thousands and
who wished to place them safely and profitably, was often greatly
embarrassed. Three generations earlier, a man who had accumulated
wealth in a profession generally purchased real property or lent
his savings on mortgage. But the number of acres in the kingdom
had remained the same; and the value of those acres, though it
had greatly increased, had by no means increased so fast as the
quantity of capital which was seeking for employment. Many too
wished to put their money where they could find it at an hour's
notice, and looked about for some species of property which could
be more readily transferred than a house or a field. A capitalist
might lend on bottomry or on personal security; but, if he did
so, he ran a great risk of losing interest and principal. There
were a few joint stock companies, among which the East India
Company held the foremost place; but the demand for the stock of
such companies was far greater than the supply. Indeed the cry
for a new East India Company was chiefly raised by persons who
had found difficulty in placing their savings at interest on good
security. So great was that difficulty that the practice of
hoarding was common. We are told that the father of Pope the
poet, who retired from business in the City about the time of the
Revolution, carried to a retreat in the country a strong box
containing near twenty thousand pounds, and took out from time to
time what was required for household expenses; and it is highly
probable that this was not a solitary case. At present the
quantity of coin which is hoarded by private persons is so small
that it would, if brought forth, make no perceptible addition to
the circulation. But, in the earlier part of the reign of William
the Third, all the greatest writers on currency were of opinion
that a very considerable mass of gold and silver was hidden in
secret drawers and behind wainscots.

The natural effect of this state of things was that a crowd of
projectors, ingenious and absurd, honest and knavish, employed
themselves in devising new schemes for the employment of
redundant capital. It was about the year 1688 that the word
stockjobber was first heard in London. In the short space of four
years a crowd of companies, every one of which confidently held
out to subscribers the hope of immense gains, sprang into
existence; the Insurance Company, the Paper Company, the
Lutestring Company, the Pearl Fishery Company, the Glass Bottle
Company, the Alum Company, the Blythe Coal Company, the
Swordblade Company. There was a Tapestry Company which would soon
furnish pretty hangings for all the parlours of the middle class
and for all the bedchambers of the higher. There was a Copper
Company which proposed to explore the mines of England, and held
out a hope that they would prove not less valuable than those of
Potosi. There was a Diving Company which undertook to bring up
precious effects from shipwrecked vessels, and which announced
that it had laid in a stock of wonderful machines resembling
complete suits of armour. In front of the helmet was a huge glass
eye like that of a cyclop; and out of the crest went a pipe
through which the air was to be admitted. The whole process was
exhibited on the Thames. Fine gentlemen and fine ladies were
invited to the show, were hospitably regaled, and were delighted
by seeing the divers in their panoply descend into the river and
return laden with old iron, and ship's tackle. There was a
Greenland Fishing Company which could not fail to drive the Dutch
whalers and herring busses out of the Northern Ocean. There was a
Tanning Company which promised to furnish leather superior to the
best that was brought from Turkey or Russia. There was a society
which undertook the office of giving gentlemen a liberal
education on low terms, and which assumed the sounding name of
the Royal Academies Company. In a pompous advertisement it was
announced that the directors of the Royal Academies Company had
engaged the best masters in every branch of knowledge, and were
about to issue twenty thousand tickets at twenty shillings each.
There was to be a lottery; two thousand prizes were to be drawn;
and the fortunate holders of the prizes were to be taught, at the
charge of the Company, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish,
conic sections, trigonometry, heraldry, japanning, fortification,
bookkeeping and the art of playing the theorbo. Some of these
companies took large mansions and printed their advertisements in
gilded letters. Others, less ostentatious, were content with ink,
and met at coffeehouses in the neighbourhood of the Royal
Exchange. Jonathan's and Garraway's were in a constant ferment
with brokers, buyers, sellers, meetings of directors, meetings of
proprietors. Time bargains soon came into fashion. Extensive
combinations were formed, and monstrous fables were circulated,
for the purpose of raising or depressing the price of shares. Our
country witnessed for the first time those phenomena with which a
long experience has made us familiar. A mania of which the
symptoms were essentially the same with those of the mania of
1720, of the mania of 1825, of the mania of 1845, seized the
public mind. An impatience to be rich, a contempt for those slow
but sure gains which are the proper reward of industry, patience
and thrift, spread through society. The spirit of the cogging
dicers of Whitefriars took possession of the grave Senators of
the City, Wardens of Trades, Deputies, Aldermen. It was much
easier and much more lucrative to put forth a lying prospectus
announcing a new stock, to persuade ignorant people that the
dividends could not fall short of twenty per cent., and to part
with five thousand pounds of this imaginary wealth for ten
thousand solid guineas, than to load a ship with a well chosen
cargo for Virginia or the Levant. Every day some new bubble was
puffed into existence, rose buoyant, shone bright, burst, and was

The new form which covetousness had taken furnished the comic
poets and satirists with an excellent subject; nor was that
subject the less welcome to them because some of the most
unscrupulous and most successful of the new race of gamesters
were men in sad coloured clothes and lank hair, men who called
cards the Devil's books, men who thought it a sin and a scandal
to win or lose twopence over a backgammon board. It was in the
last drama of Shadwell that the hypocrisy and knavery of these
speculators was, for the first time, exposed to public ridicule.
He died in November 1692, just before his Stockjobbers came on
the stage; and the epilogue was spoken by an actor dressed in
deep mourning. The best scene is that in which four or five stern
Nonconformists, clad in the full Puritan costume, after
discussing the prospects of the Mousetrap Company and the
Fleakilling Company, examine the question whether the godly may
lawfully hold stock in a Company for bringing over Chinese
ropedancers. "Considerable men have shares," says one austere
person in cropped hair and bands; "but verily I question whether
it be lawful or not." These doubts are removed by a stout old
Roundhead colonel who had fought at Marston Moor, and who reminds
his weaker brother that the saints need not themselves see the
ropedancing, and that, in all probability, there will be no
ropedancing to see. "The thing," he says, "is like to take; the
shares will sell well; and then we shall not care whether the
dancers come over or no." It is important to observe that this
scene was exhibited and applauded before one farthing of the
national debt had been contracted. So ill informed were the
numerous writers who, at a later period, ascribed to the national
debt the existence of stockjobbing and of all the immoralities
connected with stockjobbing. The truth is that society had, in
the natural course of its growth, reached a point at which it was
inevitable that there should be stockjobbing whether there were a
national debt or not, and inevitable also that, if there were a
long and costly war, there should be a national debt.

How indeed was it possible that a debt should not have been
contracted, when one party was impelled by the strongest motives
to borrow, and another was impelled by equally strong motives to
lend? A moment had arrived at which the government found it
impossible, without exciting the most formidable discontents, to
raise by taxation the supplies necessary to defend the liberty
and independence of the nation; and, at that very moment,
numerous capitalists were looking round them in vain for some
good mode of investing their savings, and, for want of such a
mode, were keeping their wealth locked up, or were lavishing it
on absurd projects. Riches sufficient to equip a navy which would
sweep the German Ocean and the Atlantic of French privateers,
riches sufficient to maintain an army which might retake Namur
and avenge the disaster of Steinkirk, were lying idle, or were
passing away from the owners into the hands of sharpers. A
statesman might well think that some part of the wealth which was
daily buried or squandered might, with advantage to the
proprietor, to the taxpayer and to the State, be attracted into
the Treasury. Why meet the extraordinary charge of a year of war
by seizing the chairs, the tables, the beds of hardworking
families, by compelling one country gentleman to cut down his
trees before they were ready for the axe, another to let the
cottages on his land fall to ruin, a third to take away his
hopeful son from the University, when Change Alley was swarming
with people who did not know what to do with their money and who
were pressing every body to borrow it?

It was often asserted at a later period by Tories, who hated the
national debt most of all things, and who hated Burnet most of
all men, that Burnet was the person who first advised the
government to contract a national debt. But this assertion is
proved by no trustworthy evidence, and seems to be disproved by
the Bishop's silence. Of all men he was the least likely to
conceal the fact that an important fiscal revolution had been his
work. Nor was the Board of Treasury at that time one which much
needed, or was likely much to regard, the counsels of a divine.
At that Board sate Godolphin the most prudent and experienced,
and Montague the most daring and inventive of financiers. Neither
of these eminent men could be ignorant that it had long been the
practice of the neighbouring states to spread over many years of
peace the excessive taxation which was made necessary by one year
of war. In Italy this practice had existed through many
generations. France had, during the war which began in 1672 and
ended in 1679, borrowed not less than thirty millions of our
money. Sir William Temple, in his interesting work on the
Batavian federation, had told his countrymen that, when he was
ambassador at the Hague, the single province of Holland, then
ruled by the frugal and prudent De Witt, owed about five millions
sterling, for which interest at four per cent. was always ready
to the day, and that when any part of the principal was paid off
the public creditor received his money with tears, well knowing
that he could find no other investment equally secure. The wonder
is not that England should have at length imitated the example
both of her enemies and of her allies, but that the fourth year
of her arduous and exhausting struggle against Lewis should have
been drawing to a close before she resorted to an expedient so

On the fifteenth of December 1692 the House of Commons resolved
itself into a Committee of Ways and Means. Somers took the chair.
Montague proposed to raise a million by way of loan; the
proposition was approved; and it was ordered that a bill should
be brought in. The details of the scheme were much discussed and
modified; but the principle appears to have been popular with all
parties. The moneyed men were glad to have a good opportunity of
investing what they had hoarded. The landed men, hard pressed by
the load of taxation, were ready to consent to any thing for the
sake of present ease. No member ventured to divide the House. On
the twentieth of January the bill was read a third time, carried
up to the Lords by Somers, and passed by them without any

By this memorable law new duties were imposed on beer and other
liquors. These duties were to be kept in the Exchequer separate
from all other receipts, and were to form a fund on the credit of
which a million was to be raised by life annuities. As the
annuitants dropped off, their annuities were to be divided among
the survivors, till the number of survivors was reduced to seven.
After that time, whatever fell in was to go to the public. It was
therefore certain that the eighteenth century would be far
advanced before the debt would be finally extinguished. The rate
of interest was to be ten per cent. till the year 1700, and after
that year seven per cent. The advantages offered to the public
creditor by this scheme may seem great, but were not more than
sufficient to compensate him for the risk which he ran. It was
not impossible that there might be a counterrevolution; and it
was certain that, if there were a counterrevolution, those who
had lent money to William would lose both interest and principal.

Such was the origin of that debt which has since become the
greatest prodigy that ever perplexed the sagacity and confounded
the pride of statesmen and philosophers. At every stage in the
growth of that debt the nation has set up the same cry of anguish
and despair. At every stage in the growth of that debt it has
been seriously asserted by wise men that bankruptcy and ruin were
at hand. Yet still the debt went on growing; and still bankruptcy
and ruin were as remote as ever. When the great contest with
Lewis the Fourteenth was finally terminated by the Peace of
Utrecht, the nation owed about fifty millions; and that debt was
considered, not merely by the rude multitude, not merely by
foxhunting squires and coffeehouse orators, but by acute and
profound thinkers, as an incumbrance which would permanently
cripple the body politic; Nevertheless trade flourished; wealth
increased; the nation became richer and richer. Then came the war
of the Austrian Succession; and the debt rose to eighty millions.
Pamphleteers, historians and orators pronounced that now, at all
events, our case was desperate. Yet the signs of increasing
prosperity, signs which could neither be counterfeited nor
concealed, ought to have satisfied observant and reflecting men
that a debt of eighty millions was less to the England which was
governed by Pelham than a debt of fifty millions had been to the
England which was governed by Oxford. Soon war again broke forth;
and, under the energetic and prodigal administration of the first
William Pitt, the debt rapidly swelled to a hundred and forty
millions. As soon as the first intoxication of victory was over,
men of theory and men of business almost unanimously pronounced
that the fatal day had now really arrived. The only statesman,
indeed, active or speculative, who did not share in the general
delusion was Edmund Burke. David Hume, undoubtedly one of the
most profound political economists of his time, declared that our
madness had exceeded the madness of the Crusaders. Richard Coeur
de Lion and Saint Lewis had not gone in the face of arithmetical
demonstration. It was impossible to prove by figures that the
road to Paradise did not lie through the Holy Land; but it was
possible to prove by figures that the road to national ruin was
through the national debt. It was idle, however, now to talk
about the road; we had done with the road; we had reached the
goal; all was over; all the revenues of the island north of Trent
and west of Reading were mortgaged. Better for us to have been
conquered by Prussia or Austria than to be saddled with the
interest of a hundred and forty millions.370 And yet this great
philosopher--for such he was--had only to open his eyes, and to
see improvement all around him, cities increasing, cultivation
extending, marts too small for the crowd of buyers and sellers,
harbours insufficient to contain the shipping, artificial rivers
joining the chief inland seats of industry to the chief seaports,
streets better lighted, houses better furnished, richer wares
exposed to sale in statelier shops, swifter carriages rolling
along smoother roads. He had, indeed, only to compare the
Edinburgh of his boyhood with the Edinburgh of his old age. His
prediction remains to posterity, a memorable instance of the
weakness from which the strongest minds are not exempt. Adam
Smith saw a little and but a little further. He admitted that,
immense as the burden was, the nation did actually sustain it and
thrive under it in a way which nobody could have foreseen. But he
warned his countrymen not to repeat so hazardous an experiment.
The limit had been reached. Even a small increase might be
fatal.371 Not less gloomy was the view which George Grenville, a
minister eminently diligent and practical, took of our financial
situation. The nation must, he conceived, sink under a debt of a
hundred and forty millions, unless a portion of the load were
borne by the American colonies. The attempt to lay a portion of
the load on the American colonies produced another war. That war
left us with an additional hundred millions of debt, and without
the colonies whose help had been represented as indispensable.
Again England was given over; and again the strange patient
persisted in becoming stronger and more blooming in spite of all
the diagnostics and prognostics of State physicians. As she had
been visibly more prosperous with a debt of a hundred and forty
millions than with a debt of fifty millions, so she, as visibly
more prosperous with a debt of two hundred and forty millions
than with a debt of a hundred and forty millions. Soon however
the wars which sprang from the French Revolution, and which far
exceeded in cost any that the world had ever seen, tasked the
powers of public credit to the utmost. When the world was again
at rest the funded debt of England amounted to eight hundred
millions. If the most enlightened man had been told, in 1792,
that, in 1815, the interest on eight hundred millions would be
duly paid to the day at the Bank, he would have been as hard of
belief as if he had been told that the government would be in
possession of the lamp of Aladdin or of the purse of Fortunatus.
It was in truth a gigantic, a fabulous debt; and we can hardly
wonder that the cry of despair should have been louder than ever.
But again that cry was found to have been as unreasonable as
ever. After a few years of exhaustion, England recovered herself.
Yet, like Addison's valetudinarian, who continued to whimper that
he was dying of consumption till he became so fat that he was
shamed into silence, she went on complaining that she was sunk in
poverty till her wealth showed itself by tokens which made her
complaints ridiculous. The beggared, the bankrupt society not
only proved able to meet all its obligations, but, while meeting
those obligations, grew richer and richer so fast that the growth
could almost be discerned by the eye. In every county, we saw
wastes recently turned into gardens; in every city, we saw new
streets, and squares, and markets, more brilliant lamps, more
abundant supplies of water; in the suburbs of every great seat of
industry, we saw villas multiplying fast, each embosomed in its
gay little paradise of lilacs and roses. While shallow
politicians were repeating that the energies of the people were
borne down by the weight of the public burdens, the first journey
was performed by steam on a railway. Soon the island was
intersected by railways. A sum exceeding the whole amount of the
national debt at the end of the American war was, in a few years,
voluntarily expended by this ruined people in viaducts, tunnels,
embankments, bridges, stations, engines. Meanwhile taxation was
almost constantly becoming lighter and lighter; yet still the
Exchequer was full. It may be now affirmed without fear of
contradiction that we find it as easy to pay the interest of
eight hundred millions as our ancestors found it, a century ago,
to pay the interest of eighty millions.

It can hardly be doubted that there must have been some great
fallacy in the notions of those who uttered and of those who
believed that long succession of confident predictions, so
signally falsified by a long succession of indisputable facts.
To point out that fallacy is the office rather of the political
economist than of the historian. Here it is sufficient to say
that the prophets of evil were under a double delusion. They
erroneously imagined that there was an exact analogy between the
case of an individual who is in debt to another individual and
the case of a society which is in debt to a part of itself; and
this analogy led them into endless mistakes about the effect of
the system of funding. They were under an error not less serious
touching the resources of the country. They made no allowance for
the effect produced by the incessant progress of every
experimental science, and by the incessant efforts of every man
to get on in life. They saw that the debt grew; and they forgot
that other things grew as well as the debt.

A long experience justifies us in believing that England may, in
the twentieth century, be better able to bear a debt of sixteen
hundred millions than she is at the present time to bear her
present load. But be this as it may, those who so confidently
predicted that she must sink, first under a debt of fifty
millions, then under a debt of eighty millions then under a debt
of a hundred and forty millions, then under a debt of two hundred
and forty millions, and lastly under a debt of eight hundred
millions, were beyond all doubt under a twofold mistake. They
greatly overrated the pressure of the burden; they greatly
underrated the strength by which the burden was to be borne.

It may be desirable to add a few words touching the way in which
the system of funding has affected the interests of the great
commonwealth of nations. If it be true that whatever gives to
intelligence an advantage over brute force and to honesty an
advantage over dishonesty has a tendency to promote the happiness
and virtue of our race, it can scarcely be denied that, in the
largest view, the effect of this system has been salutary. For it
is manifest that all credit depends on two things, on the power
of a debtor to pay debts, and on his inclination to pay them. The
power of a society to pay debts is proportioned to the progress
which that society has made in industry, in commerce, and in all
the arts and sciences which flourish under the benignant
influence of freedom and of equal law. The inclination of a
society to pay debts is proportioned to the degree in which that
society respects the obligations of plighted faith. Of the
strength which consists in extent of territory and in number of
fighting men, a rude despot who knows no law but his own childish
fancies and headstrong passions, or a convention of socialists
which proclaims all property to be robbery, may have more than
falls to the lot of the best and wisest government. But the
strength which is derived from the confidence of capitalists such
a despot, such a convention, never can possess. That strength,--
and it is a strength which has decided the event of more than one
great conflict,--flies, by the law of its nature, from barbarism
and fraud, from tyranny and anarchy, to follow civilisation and
virtue, liberty and order.

While the bill which first created the funded debt of England was
passing, with general approbation, through the regular stages,
the two Houses discussed, for the first time, the great question
of Parliamentary Reform.

It is to be observed that the object of the reformers of that
generation was merely to make the representative body a more
faithful interpreter of the sense of the constituent body. It
seems scarcely to have occurred to any of them that the
constituent body might be an unfaithful interpreter of the sense
of the nation. It is true that those deformities in the structure
of the constituent body, which, at length, in our own days,
raised an irresistible storm of public indignation, were far less
numerous and far less offensive in the seventeenth century than
they had become in the nineteenth. Most of the boroughs which
were disfranchised in 1832 were, if not positively, yet
relatively, much more important places in the reign of William
the Third than in the reign of William the Fourth. Of the
populous and wealthy manufacturing towns, seaports and watering
places, to which the franchise was given in the reign of William
the Fourth, some were, in the reign of William the Third, small
hamlets, where a few ploughmen or fishermen lived under thatched
roofs; some were fields covered with harvests, or moors abandoned
to grouse; With the exception of Leeds and Manchester, there was
not, at the time of the Revolution, a single town of five
thousand inhabitants which did not send two representatives to
the House of Commons. Even then, however, there was no want of
startling anomalies. Looe, East and West, which contained not
half the population or half the wealth of the smallest of the
hundred parishes of London, returned as many members as
London.372 Old Sarum, a deserted ruin which the traveller feared
to enter at night lest he should find robbers lurking there, had
as much weight in the legislature as Devonshire or Yorkshire.373
Some eminent individuals of both parties, Clarendon, for example,
among the Tories, and Pollexfen among the Whigs, condemned this
system. Yet both parties were, for very different reasons,
unwilling to alter it. It was protected by the prejudices of one
faction and by the interests of the other. Nothing could be more
repugnant to the genius of Toryism than the thought of destroying
at a blow institutions which had stood through ages, for the
purpose of building something more symmetrical out of the ruins.
The Whigs, on the other hand, could not but know that they were
much more likely to lose than to gain by a change in this part of
our polity. It would indeed be a great mistake to imagine that a
law transferring political power from small to large constituent
bodies would have operated in 1692 as it operated in 1832.

In 1832 the effect of the transfer was to increase the power of
the town population. In 1692 the effect would have been to make
the power of the rural population irresistible. Of the one
hundred and forty-two members taken away in 1832 from small
boroughs more than half were given to large and flourishing
towns. But in 1692 there was hardly one large and flourishing
town which had not already as many members as it could, with any
show of reason, claim. Almost all therefore that was taken from
the small boroughs must have been given to the counties; and
there can be no doubt that whatever tended to raise the counties
and to depress the towns must on the whole have tended to raise
the Tories and to depress the Whigs. From the commencement of our
civil troubles the towns had been on the side of freedom and
progress, the country gentlemen and the country clergymen on the
side of authority and prescription. If therefore a reform bill,
disfranchising small constituent bodies and giving additional
members to large constituent bodies, had become law soon after
the Revolution, there can be little doubt that a decided majority
of the House of Commons would have consisted of rustic baronets
and squires, high Churchmen, high Tories, and half Jacobites.
With such a House of Commons it is almost certain that there
would have been a persecution of the Dissenters; it is not easy
to understand how there could have been an union with Scotland;
and it is not improbable that there would have been a restoration
of the Stuarts. Those parts of our constitution therefore which,
in recent times, politicians of the liberal school have generally
considered as blemishes, were, five generations ago, regarded
with complacency by the men who were most zealous for civil and
religious freedom.

But, while Whigs and Tories agreed in wishing to maintain the
existing rights of election, both Whigs and Tories were forced to
admit that the relation between the elector and the
representative was not what it ought to be. Before the civil wars
the House of Commons had enjoyed the fullest confidence of the
nation. A House of Commons, distrusted, despised, hated by the
Commons, was a thing unknown. The very words would, to Sir Peter
Wentworth or Sir Edward Coke, have sounded like a contradiction
in terms. But by degrees a change took place. The Parliament
elected in 1661, during that fit of joy and fondness which
followed the return of the royal family, represented, not the
deliberate sense, but the momentary caprice of the nation. Many
of the members were men who, a few months earlier or a few months
later, would have had no chance of obtaining seats, men of broken
fortunes and of dissolute habits, men whose only claim to public
confidence was the ferocious hatred which they bore to rebels and
Puritans. The people, as soon as they had become sober, saw with
dismay to what an assembly they had, during their intoxication,
confided the care of their property, their liberty and their
religion. And the choice, made in a moment of frantic enthusiasm,
might prove to be a choice for life. As the law then stood, it
depended entirely on the King's pleasure whether, during his
reign, the electors should have an opportunity of repairing their
error. Eighteen years passed away. A new generation grew up. To
the fervid loyalty with which Charles had been welcomed back to
Dover succeeded discontent and disaffection. The general cry was
that the kingdom was misgoverned, degraded, given up as a prey to
worthless men and more worthless women, that our navy had been
found unequal to a contest with Holland, that our independence
had been bartered for the gold of France, that our consciences
were in danger of being again subjected to the yoke of Rome. The
people had become Roundheads; but the body which alone was
authorised to speak in the name of the people was still a body of
Cavaliers. It is true that the King occasionally found even that
House of Commons unmanageable. From the first it had contained
not a few true Englishmen; others had been introduced into it as
vacancies were made by death; and even the majority, courtly as
it was, could not but feel some sympathy with the nation. A
country party grew up and became formidable. But that party
constantly found its exertions frustrated by systematic
corruption. That some members of the legislature received direct
bribes was with good reason suspected, but could not be proved.
That the patronage of the Crown was employed on an extensive
scale for the purpose of influencing votes was matter of
notoriety. A large proportion of those who gave away the public
money in supplies received part of that money back in salaries;
and thus was formed a mercenary band on which the Court might, in
almost any extremity, confidently rely.

The servility of this Parliament had left a deep impression on
the public mind. It was the general opinion that England ought to
be protected against all risk of being ever again represented,
during a long course of years, by men who had forfeited her
confidence, and who were retained by a fee to vote against her
wishes and interests. The subject was mentioned in the
Convention; and some members wished to deal with it while the
throne was still vacant. The cry for reform had ever since been
becoming more and more importunate. The people, heavily pressed
by taxes, were naturally disposed to regard those who lived on
the taxes with little favour. The war, it was generally
acknowledged, was just and necessary; and war could not be
carried on without large expenditure. But the larger the
expenditure which was required for the defence of the nation, the
more important it was that nothing should be squandered. The
immense gains of official men moved envy and indignation. Here a
gentleman was paid to do nothing. There many gentlemen were paid
to do what would be better done by one. The coach, the liveries,
the lace cravat and diamond buckles of the placeman were
naturally seen with an evil eye by those who rose up early and
lay down late in order to furnish him with the means of indulging
in splendour and luxury. Such abuses it was the especial business


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