The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XXIII: To His Grace the Duke of Bedford. 19 September 1769.

[83] MY LORD,

YOU are so little accustomed to receive any marks of respect or esteem from the public, that if, in the following lines, a compliment or expression of applause should escape me, I fear you would consider it as a mockery of your established character, and, perhaps, an insult to your understanding. You have nice feelings, my Lord, if we may judge from your resentments. Cautious, therefore, of giving offence, where you have so little deserved it, I shall leave the illustration of your virtues to other hands. Your friends have a privilege to play upon the easiness of your temper, or, possibly, they are better acquainted with your good qualities than I am. You have done good by stealth. The rest is upon record. You have still left ample room for speculation, when panegyric is exhausted.

You are, indeed, a very considerable man. The highest rank; a splendid fortune; and a name, glorious, till it was yours; were sufficient to have supported you with meaner abilities than I think you possess. From the first, you derive a constitutional claim to respect; from the second, a natural extensive authority: the last created a partial expectation of hereditary virtues. The use you have made of these uncommon advantages, might have been more honourable to yourself, but could not be more instructive to mankind. We may trace it in the veneration of your country, the choice of your friends, and in the accomplishment of every sanguine hope which the public might have conceived from the illustrious name of Russel.

The eminence of your station gave you a commanding prospect of your duty. The road which led to honour, was open to your view. You could not lose it by mistake, and you had no temptation to depart from it by design. Compare the natural dignity and importance of the highest peer of England; the noble independence which he might have maintained in parliament; and the real [84] interest and respect which he might have acquired, not only in parliament, but through the whole kingdom; compare these glorious distinctions, with the ambition of, holding a share in government, the emoluments of a place, the sale of a borough, or the purchase of a corporation; and though you may not regret the virtues which create respect, you may see with anguish how much real importance and authority you have lost. Consider the character of an independent virtuous Duke of Bedford; imagine what he might be in this country; then reflect one moment upon what you are. If it be possible for me to withdraw my attention from the fact, 1 will tell you in the theory what such a man might be.

Conscious of his own weight and importance, his conduct in parliament would be directed by nothing but the constitutional duty of a peer. He would consider himself as a guardian of the laws. Willing to support the just measures of government, but determined to observe the conduct of the minister with suspicion; he would oppose the violence of faction with as much firmness as the encroachments of prerogative. He would be as little capable of bargaining with the minister for places for himself, or his dependents, as of descending to mix himself in the intrigues of opposition. Whenever an important question called for his opinion in parliament, he would be heard by the most profligate minister with deference and respect. His authority would either sanctify or disgrace the measures of government.

The people would look up to him as their protector: and a virtuous prince would have one honest man in his dominions, in whose integrity and judgment he might safely confide. If it should be the will of Providence to afflict* him with a domestic misfortune, he would submit to the stroke with feeling, but not without dignity. He would consider the people as his children, and receive a generous, heartfelt consolation, in the sympathizing tears and blessings of his country.

Your Grace may probably discover something more intelligible in the negative part of this illustrious character. The man I have described would never prostitute his dignity in parliament, by an indecent violence, either in

* The Duke had lately lost his only son by a fall from his horse.

[85] opposing or defending a minister. He would not at one moment rancorously persecute, at another basely cringe, to the favourite of his Sovereign, After outraging the royal dignity with peremptory conditions, little short of menace and hostility, he would never descend to the humility of soliciting an interview* with the favourite, and of offering to recover, at any price, the honour of his friendship. Though deceived, perhaps, in his youth, he would not, through the course of a long life, have invariably chosen his friends from among the most profligate of mankind. His own honour would have forbidden him from mixing his private pleasures or conversation with jockeys, gamesters, blasphemers, gladiators, or buffoons. He would then have never felt, much less would he have submitted to, the dishonest necessity of engaging in the interests and intrigues of his dependents; of supplying their vices, or relieving their beggary, at the expence of his country. He would not have betrayed such ignorance, or such contempt, of the constitution, as openly to avow, in a court of justice, the purchase† and sale of a borough. He would not have thought it consistent with his rank in the state, or even with his personal importance, to be the little tyrant of a little corporation.‡ He would never have been insulted with virtues which he had laboured to extinguish; nor suffered the disgrace of a mortifying defeat, which has made him ridiculous and contemptible even to the few by whom he was not detested. I reverence the afflictions of a good man: his sorrows are sacred. But how can we take part in the distresses of a man whom we can neither love or esteem; or feel for a calamity of which he himself is insensible? Where was the father's heart,

*At this interview, which passed at the house of the late Lord Eglingtoune, Lord Bute told the Duke, that he was determined never to have any connexion with a man who had so basely betrayed him.
† In an answer in Chancery, in a suit against him to recover a large sum, paid him by a person whom he had undertaken to return to parliament for one of his Grace's boroughs, he was compelled to repay the money.
‡ Of Bedford, where the tyrant was held in such contempt and detestation, that, in order to deliver themselves from him, they admitted a great number of strangers to the freedom. To make his defeat truly ridiculous, he tried his whole strength against Mr. Horne, and was beaten upon his own ground.

[86] when he could look for, or find, an immediate consolation for the loss of an only son, in consultations and bargains for a place at court, and even in the misery of balloting at the India House!

Admitting, then, that you have mistaken or deserted those honourable principles which ought to have directed your conduct; admitting that you have as little claim to private affection as to public esteem, let us see with what abilities, with what degree of judgment, you have carried your own system into execution. A great man, in the success, and even in the magnitude, of his crimes, finds a rescue from contempt. Your Grace is every way unfortunate. Yet I will not look back to those ridiculous scenes, by which, in your earlier days, you thought it an honour to be distinguished;* the recorded stripes, the public infamy, your own sufferings, or Mr. Rigby's fortitude. These events undoubtedly left an impression, though not upon your mind. To such a mind, it may, perhaps, be a pleasure to reflect, that there is hardly a corner of any of his Majesty's kingdoms, except France, in which, at one time or other, your valuable life has not been in danger. Amiable man! we see and acknowledge the protection of Providence, by which you have so often escaped the personal detestation of your fellow subjects, and are still reserved for the public justice of your country.

Your history begins to be important at that auspicious period, at which you were deputed to represent the Earl of Bute at the court of Versailles. It was an honourable office, and executed with the same spirit with which it was accepted. Your patrons wanted an ambassador who would submit to make concessions, without daring to insist upon any honourable condition for his sovereign.

* Mr. Heston Humphrey, a country attorney, horsewhipped the Duke, with equal justice, severity, and perseverance, on the course, at Litchfield. Rigby and Lord Trentham were also cudgeled in a most exemplary manner. This gave rise to the following story; "When the late king heard that Sir Edward Hawke had given the French a drubbing, his Majesty, who had never received that kind of chastisement, was pleased to ask Lord Chesterfield the meaning of the word. " Sir," says Lord Chesterfield, " the meaning of the word — but here comes the Duke of Bedford, who is better able to explain it to your Majesty than I am."

[87] Their business required a man who had as little feeling for his own dignity, as for the welfare of his country; and they found him in the first rank of the nobility. Belleisle, Goree, Guadaloupe, St. Lucia, Martinique, the Fishery, and the Havannah, are glorious monuments of your Grace's talents for negotiation. My Lord, we are too well acquainted with your pecuniary character, to think it possible that so many public sacrifices should have been made without some private compensations. Your conduct carries with it an internal evidence, beyond all the proofs of a court of justice. Even the callous pride of Lord Egremont was alarmed.* He saw and felt his own dishonour in corresponding with you: and there certainly was a moment at which he meant to have resisted, had not a fatal lethargy prevailed over his faculties, and carried all sense and memory away with it.

I will not pretend to specify the secret terms on which you were invited to support† an administration which Lord Bute pretended to leave in full possession of their ministerial authority, and perfectly masters of themselves. He was not of a temper to relinquish power, though he retired from employment. Stipulations were certainly made between your Grace and him, and certainly violated. After two years' submission, you thought you had collected strength sufficient to control his influence, and that it was your turn to be a tyrant, because you had been a slave. When you found yourself mistaken in your opinion, of your gracious Master's firmness, disappointment got the better of all your humble discretion, and carried you to an excess of outrage to his person, as distant from true spirit, as from all decency and respect.‡ After robbing him of the rights of a King, you would not permit

* This man, notwithstanding his pride and Tory principles, had some English stuff in him. Upon an official letter he wrote to the Duke of Bedford, the Duke desired to be recalled, and it \vas with the utmost difficulty, that Lord Bute could appease him.
Mr. Grenville, Lord Halifax, and Lord Egremont.
‡The Ministry having endeavoured to exclude the Dowager out of the Regency Bill, the Earl of Bute determined to dismiss them. Upon this, the Duke of Bedford demanded an audience of the ——; reproached him in plain terms with his duplicity, baseness, falsehood, treachery, and hypocrisy; repeatedly gave him the lie, and left him in convulsions.

[88] him to preserve the honour of a gentleman. It was then Lord Weymouth was nominated to Ireland, and dispatched (we well remember with what indecent hurry) to plunder the treasury of the first fruits of an employment, which you well knew he was never to execute.*

This sudden declaration of war against the favourite, might have given you a momentary merit with the public, if it had either been adopted upon principle, or maintained with resolution. Without looking back to all your former servility, we need only observe your subsequent conduct, to see upon what motives you acted. Apparently united with Mr, Grenville, you waited until Lord Rockingham's feeble administration should dissolve in its own weakness. The moment their dismission was suspected, the moment you perceived that another system was adopted in the closet, you thought it no disgrace to return to your former dependence, and solicit once more the friendship of Lord Bute. You begged an interview, at which he had spirit enough to treat you with contempt.

It would now be of little use to point out by what a train of weak, injudicious measures, it became necessary, or was thought so, to call you back to a share in the administration.† The friends, whom you did not in the last instance desert, were not of a character to add strength or credit to government : and, at that time, your alliance with the Duke of GraftonDuke of Grafton, was, I presume, hardly foreseen. We must look for other stipulations to account for that sudden resolution of the closet, by which three of your dependents ‡ (whose characters, I think, cannot be less respected than they are) were advanced to offices, through which you might again control the minister, and probably engross the whole direction of affairs.

The possession of absolute power is now once more within your reach. The measures you have taken to obtain and confirm it, are too gross to escape the eyes of a discerning, judicious Prince. His palace is besieged; the lines of circumvallation are drawing round him; and,

* He received three thousand pounds for plate and equipage money.
†When Earl Gower was appointed President of the Council, the King, with his usual sincerity, assured him, that he had not had one happy moment since the Duke of Bedford left him.
‡Lords Gower, Weymouth, and Sandwich.

[89] unless he finds a resource in his own activity, or in the attachment of the real friends of his family, the best of Princes must submit to the confinement of a state prisoner, until your Grace's death, or some less fortunate event, shall raise the siege. For the present you may safely resume that style of insult and menace, which even a private gentleman cannot submit to hear without being contemptible. Mr. M'Kenzie's history is not yet forgotten; and you may find precedents enough of the mode in which an imperious subject may signify his pleasure to his sovereign. Where will this gracious Monarch look for assistance, when the wretched Grafton could forget his obligations to his Master, and desert him for a hollow alliance with such a man as the Duke of Bedford?

Let us consider you, then, as arrived at the summit of worldly greatness; let us suppose that all your plans of avarice and ambition are accomplished, and your most sanguine wishes gratified, in the fear as well as the hatred of the people; can age itself forget that you are now in the last act of life? Can gray hairs make folly venerable? And is there no period to be reserved for meditation and retirement? For shame! my Lord, let it not be recorded of you, that the latest moments of your life were dedicated to the same unworthy pursuits, the same busy agitations, in which your youth and manhood were exhausted. Consider that, although you cannot disgrace your former life, you are violating the character of age, and exposing the impotent imbecility, after you have lost the vigour, of the passions.

Your friends will ask, perhaps, Whither shall this unhappy old man retire? Can he remain in the metropolis, where his life has been so often threatened, and his palace so often attacked? If he returns to Wooburn, scorn and mockery await him. He must create a solitude round his estate, if he would avoid the face of reproach and derision. At Plymouth, his destruction would be more than probable; at Exeter, inevitable. No honest Englishman will ever forget his attachment, nor any honest Scotchman forgive his treachery, to Lord Bute. At every town he enters, he must change his liveries and name. Which ever way he flies, the hue and cry of the country pursues him.

In another kingdom, indeed, the blessings of his [90] administration have been more sensibly felt; his virtues better understood: or, at worst, they will not, for him alone, forget their hospitality. As well might Verres have returned to Sicily. You have twice escaped, my Lord; beware of a third experiment. The indignation of a whole people, plundered, insulted, and oppressed, as they have been, will not always be disappointed.

It is in vain, therefore, to shift the scene. You can no more fly from your enemies, than from yourself. Persecuted abroad, you look into your own heart for consolation, and find nothing but reproaches and despair. But, my Lord, you may quit the field of business, though not the field of danger, and though you cannot be safe, you may cease to be ridiculous. I fear you have listened too long to the advice of those pernicious friends, with whose interests you have sordidly united your own, and for whom you have sacrificed every thing that ought to be dear to a man of honour. They are still base enough to encourage the follies of your age, as they once did the vices of your youth. As little acquainted with the rules of decorum, as with the laws of morality, they will not suffer you to profit by experience, nor even to consult the propriety of a bad character. Even now they tell you, that life is no more than a dramatic scene, in which the hero should preserve his consistency to the last; and that, as you lived without virtue, you should die without repentance.


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