PASSING over for the present the intrigues for the disposal of the Great Seal, which accompanied and followed Lord Camden's resignation of it, we must now regard him as an opposition leader, banded with Lord Chatham, Lord Rockingham, and other Whig Peers, strenuously to resist the measures of the new Government with Lord North at the head of it. At the commencement of their operations he was placed rather in an awkward predicament in a debate which arose on Lord Marchmont's famous midnight motion,a "that any interference of the Lords respecting the Middlesex election would be unconstitutional." Lord Chatham having bitterly reflected on the measures of the Government respecting Wilkes, Lord Sandwich took occasion to charge the late Chancellor with duplicity of conduct, because he had permitted those proceedings which had given so much disgust, and which he and his friends now so loudly condemned. Lord Camden answered him, by declaring upon his honour, "that long before Mr. Wilkes's expulsion, and also before the vote of incapacity, on being asked his opinion by the Duke of Grafton, he had pronounced it both illegal and imprudent," adding that "he had always thought so, and had often delivered his opinion to that effect."b The Duke of Grafton, however, declared that although the Chancellor had once before the expulsion said it would be impolitic or ill-timed, he never had expressed his sentiments on the vote of incapacity, but whenever that subject was agitated he had withdrawn from the council board, thereby declining to give any opinion upon it; and Lord Weymouth, another member of the Cabinet, asserted that the Chancellor had withheld his advice and assistance from his colleagues on every mention of expulsion and incapacity:
Lord Camden. "Before the silence to which the noble Lords allude, I had repeatedly given my opinion upon the impropriety of the measures we have been discussing. But when I found that my opinion and my advice were rejected and despised, and that these measures were to be pursued in spite of every remonstrance I could make, I did withdraw myself under the conviction that my presence would only distract, without preventing them. I was never farther consulted upon them directly or indirectly, because my opinion was well known but I was ever ready to express my opinion boldly and openly on every question debated in council, and humbly, but firmly, to give my best advice to my Sovereign for the public good."c
When Lord Chatham introduced his bill for reversing the decision of the House of Commons which disqualified Mr. Wilkes, and seated Mr. Luttrell as member for Middlesex, Lord Camden warmly supported it against the vigorous attacks of Lord Mansfield. After stating the course pursued, he thus proceeded:
"What, then, hindered the House from receiving Mr. Wilkes as their member? I am ashamed to guess at it, merely because they would act in an arbitrary, dictatorial manner, in spite of law or precedent, against reason and justice. A secret influence had said the word 'Mr. Wilkes shall not sit,' and the fiat was to be obeyed, though it tore out the heart-strings of this excellent constitution. The judgment passed upon the Middlesex election is a more tyrannical act than any which disgraced the twelve years' suspension of parliaments in the reign of Charles I.; and, though this bill may be rejected (as we are all sensible how a majority can supersede reason and argument), I trust in the good sense and spirit of the people of this country that they will renew the claim of their inherent and inalienable right to a true and free representation in parliament."d
Soon after, arose the personal controversy between Lord Camden and Lord Mansfield respecting the law of libel. A motion having been made in the House of Commons, respecting the direction given to the jury on the trial of Woodfall, for publishing JUNIUS'S "Letter to the King," Lord Mansfield desired that the House of Lords might be summoned, as "he had something to communicate to their Lordships." On the day appointed, he contented himself with saying that he had left a paper with the Clerk of the House; that the paper contained the opinion of the Court of King's Bench in the case of Rex v. Woodfall; and that their Lordships might read it, and take copies of it, if they pleased. Lord Camden asked him if he meant to have the paper entered on the Journals. He said, "No, no! only to leave it with the clerk." Lord Camden. "My Lords, I consider the paper delivered in by the noble Lord on the woolsacke as a challenge directed personally to me, and I accept it; he has thrown down the glove, and I take it up. In direct contradiction to him, I maintain that his doctrine is not the law of England. I am ready to enter into the debate whenever the noble Lord will fix a day for it. I desire and insist that it may be an early one. Meanwhile, I propose the following questions to the noble and learned Lord upon his paper, to each of which I expect an answer." He then read six questions respecting the Chief Justice's notions as to the jury being at liberty to consider whether the paper, charged to be libellous, be of a criminal or innocent character. Lord Mansfield replied that "this mode of proceeding was taking him by surprise; that it was unfair; and that he would not answer interrogatories." Lord Camden then pressed for a day to be appointed for the noble and learned Lord to give in his answers, and said he was ready to meet him at any time. Lord Mansfield pledged himself that the matter should be discussed. The Duke of Richmond, having congratulated the House on the prospect before them, begged that the day might be fixed. Lord Mansfield. "I have only said I will hereafter give my opinion; and as to fixing a day, I will not fix a day."
The matter here dropped, and never was resumed, Lord Mansfield's want of moral courage holding him back from a renewal of the contest, and Lord Camden thinking that be had gained a sufficient triumph.f
The morning after this encounter, he received the following kind and flattering inquiry from Lord Chatham:
"Pall Mall, Wednesday.
"My dear Lord,
"I am anxious to know how you do after the noble exertion of yesterday. What your Lordship did was transcendent; and as you were not quite well, I am solicitous to hear of you; though, after recollection, I think I ought to inquire how my Lord Mansfield does."g
The ex-Chancellor continued most zealously to discharge his public duty, and was indefatigable in his attendance in the House of Lords, and in hearing causes in the Privy Council when summoned to attend there; but, till the rupture with the American colonies was approaching, he seems from this time seldom to have taken a prominent part in the debates.
When the Royal Marriage Act was brought forward in 1772, he strongly opposed it. He admitted that some regulations were necessary to prevent the misalliance of those near to the throne; but he disapproved of the proposed enactments, and he strongly pointed out the inconvenience and injustice which might arise from the proposal to extend them to all the descendants of George II., who, according to the common process of descent, might be expected in a few generations to extend to many thousands. He mentioned that he knew an undoubted legitimate descendant of a King of England who was then keeping an alehouse. His manliness deserves great credit, considering that the reigning Sovereign was resolved to carry the bill as originally framed, against the advice of several of his Ministers, and had expressed himself personally offended with all who questioned its wisdom.
In 1774, came on judicially in the House of Lords the great question of literary property, "whether, at common law, authors have a perpetual copyright in their works?" Lord Camden denied the claim; and, on his opinion, the judgment was pronounced, by which only a limited monopoly is enjoyed, as conferred by the legislature. I give a specimen of his speech, which has been loudly praised, but which I must own appears to me, though founded on right principle, to be rather declamatory:
"If there be any thing in the world common to all mankind, science and literature are in their nature publici juris, and they ought to be free and general as air or water. They forget their Creator as well as their fellow-creatures who wish to monopolise his noblest gifts and greatest benefits. Why did we enter into society at all, but to enlighten one another's minds, and improve our faculties for the common welfare of the species? Those great men, those favoured mortals, those sublime spirits, who share that ray of divinity which we call genius, are intrusted by Providence with the delegated power of imparting to their fellow-creatures that instruction which Heaven meant for universal benefit: they must not be niggards to the world, or hoard up for themselves the common stock. We know what was the punishment of him who hid his talent; and Providence has taken care that there shall not be wanting the noblest motives and incentives for men of genius to communicate to the world the truths and discoveries, which are nothing if uncommunicated. Knowledge has no value or use for the solitary owner; to be enjoyed it must be communicated: scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter. Glory is the reward of science; and those who deserve it scorn all meaner views. I speak not of the scribblers for bread, who tease the world with their wretched productions; fourteen years is too long a period for their perishable trash. It was not for gain that Bacon, Newton, Milton, Locke, instructed and delighted the world. When the bookseller offered Milton five pounds for his PARADISE LOST, he did not reject the offer and commit his piece to the flames, nor did he accept the miserable pittance as the reward of his labours; he knew that the real price of his work was immortality, and that posterity would pay it. Some authors are as careless of profit as others are rapacious of it, and in what a situation would the public be with regard to literature if there were no means of compelling a second impression of a useful work! All our learning would be locked up in the hands of the Tonsons and Lintots of the age, who could set what price upon it their avarice demands, till the whole public would become as much their slaves as their own wretched hackney compilers."h
He afterwards opposed the bill introduced to extend the period of copyright,i and it was thrown out. But I think he was romantically unjust to literary men, and the controversy is at last well settled by the exertions of my friend Serjeant Talfourdk so that literature may now be pursued as a liberal profession, offering to those who succeed in it the means of honourable support, and of making an adequate provision for their families.
After the time when Lord Camden was removed from the office of Chancellor, till the Duke of Grafton quitted office and joined the Opposition in 1776, they were political enemies, but they continued private friends. I will here introduce a few extracts from the letters of the former, showing the familiar intimacy which subsisted between them.
The ex-Premier having accepted the office of Lord Privy Seal under Lord North, the ex-Chancellor sent him a letter of congratulation, in which he says
"If I was not more afraid of public calumny than of any private or particular displeasure, I should certainly, as I intended, pay my respects to your Grace next week, which your Grace must now excuse me from doing, because that would look more like courting your fortune than seeking your friendship. Notwithstanding which, I shall still hold myself engaged, if you please, to spend a day with your Grace at Wakefield Lodge some time in the summer. And when every body sees, as they will in a month or two, that I am neither partaking your good fortune, nor paying homage to it in the moment of your preferment, I shall set at nought every other suspicion that jealousy and malversation may raise against my conduct."
To an invitation from the Duke to visit him, Lord Camden returned the following answer:
"Deal, June 23, 1775.
"Your Grace is too great a man to feel the comfort of so private a retreat as I am enjoying, and of not being under the daily temptation of a plentiful table, when the digestion always suffers in proportion as the appetite is provoked. I am advancing apace towards the state of a steady and invincible abstinence, and begin to think I may be able to withstand all the allurements both of meat and drink. But I am sure to be in danger the moment I set my foot in Wakefield Lodge. If I should find myself sufficiently fortified to meet and resist this temptation by the month of August, I shall endeavour to take advantage of your Grace's invitation, for I should bo extremely happy to keep alive that friendship which had commenced in politics, and has never been violated, though unluckily interrupted, by the same cause."
The next letter in the series is without date, but must have been written soon after:
"Mine and your Grace's old friend, the Earl of Chatham, still continues extremely ill. I am satisfied, from the account I hear from time to time (for he sees nobody), he can never recover his health so far as to be fit for any active business, so miserably is he reduced by age and sickness. I am, thank God, remarkably well, but your Grace must not seduce me into my former intemperance. A plain dish and a draught of porter (which last is indispensable), are the very extent of my luxury. I have suffered a good deal, and have studied stomach disorders to such purpose, that I think I am able to teach your Grace (who are yet young) how to arrive at a strong and healthy old age, which, I hope, will be your lot for the sake of the public as well as of your friends."
When the Duke of Grafton, seeing the injustice of the American war, and alarmed by the unskilful manner in which it was carried on, joined Lord Chatham, Lord Rockingham, and Lord Shelburne, in trying to put an end to it, Lord Camden again wrote to him, with the most unbounded confidence on all subjects. The following is the desponding view taken by the ex-Chancellor of public affairs in the beginning of the year 1776:
"I am so satisfied of the efficacy of Bath for my constitution, that I am determined to make it another visit next spring; nor shall any consideration of politics restrain me; for, indeed, my dear Lord, the chance of doing good is at an end. So many circumstances have combined, like so many fatalities, to overturn this mighty empire, that all attempts to support it are weak and ineffectual. Who could have imagined that the Ministry could have become popular by forcing this country into a destructive war, and advancing the power of the Crown to a state of despotism? And yet that is the fact, and we, the minority, suffer under the odium due only to the Ministers, without the consolation either of pay or power. America is lost, and the war afoot. There is an end of advising preventive measures, and peace will be more difficult to make than war was. For your Grace justly observes that the claims of the Americans, if they are successful, will grow too big for concession, and no man here will venture to be responsible for such a treaty. For I am persuaded it will be the fate of England to stoop, though I do not know the minister to apply so humiliating a remedy. Shall we ever condescend to make that country a satisfaction for damages? and yet she will never treat without it. What, then, must be our conduct in parliament? I am at a loss to advise. I thought from the beginning of the year secession was the only measure left. I still think the same: but I will enter the lists of a more active opposition if that shall be thought best. I wish it were possible for the whole body to unite; but union is only understood and practised on the other side of the Atlantic. That would be respectable, and perhaps formidable; but I do not expect to see it. Absence would look more like union to the public, and might, perhaps, join us at last into a confederacy.m If motions are to be made, they should be in concert, and we ought to protect and defend each other from attacks, like real friends: else, like other broken forces, we shall be put to the rout."
A few days after, Lord Camden added:
"I shall persist to the last in giving my testimony against this pernicious war, though I neither expect success nor popular applause; but it will be no inconsiderable consolation to hear my name joined to your Grace's, let the event turn out as it may."
In the autumn of this year Lord Camden visited Ireland, where he had a daughter married to Mr. Stewart, the ancestor of the present Marquess of Londonderry. Thence he thus addressed the Duke of Grafton:
"The colonies have now declared their independence. THEY ARE ENEMIES IN WAR, AND FRIENDS IN PEACE; and the two countries are fairly rent asunder. What then are we? mere friends or enemies to America. Friends to their rights and privileges as fellow-subjects, but not friends to their independence. This event does not surprise me: I foresaw it. The Ministers drove it on with a view of converting a tyrannical and oppressive invasion into a national and necessary war; and they have succeeded too well: and now I expect the Opposition will be called upon to join with them in one cause, and we shall be summoned as Englishmen to unanimity. But if your Grace should see a French war to grow out of this civil dispute, which I expect and believe to be unavoidable, our provinces will then be leagued with our enemies in an offensive war against Great Britain. In such a situation a private man may retire, and lament the calamities which he endeavoured faithfully to prevent. But how can he give an active opposition to measures that self-preservation will then stamp with necessity? I have but one line to pursue if I am to bear my part, and that is a reunion with America, almost at any rate. 'Si possis, recte: Si non, quocunque modo.' But I do not expect the ministry, the parliament, or the nation, will adopt any such system. So that what with the general fear in some of incurring the popular odium, and in others of seizing this opportunity 'to make their fortunes by shifting their position,' according to Lord Suffolk's phrase, the minority next winter will dwindle to nothing."
In the beginning of 1777 he writes
"From politics, my dear Lord, I am almost entirely weaned. I cannot prevail upon myself to go with the tide, and I have no power to struggle against it. War must now decide the question between the two countries, both sides having too much offended to be ever forgiven. But, hopeless as I am, I shall be always at your Grace's command, and ready to contribute my poor endeavours for the public. And yet I suspect I shall spend more time this year at the playhouse and opera than the House of Lords."
Notwithstanding Lord Camden's despair, arising from the violent policy adopted by the Government, and the passion for coercing the colonists which still prevailed in the nation, he nobly seconded Lord Chatham in all the efforts of that illustrious patriot to bring about a reconciliation between the mother country and the colonies. He spoke at great length in every debate upon America, and many of his speeches during this interval are preserved. But although they were most exciting when delivered, the interest of them has nearly died away, and I can only venture to give a few extracts from them to show their extraordinary merit.
In opposing the bill for cutting off commerce with the New England States which so soon led to hostilities, he said
"Some of your Lordships inform us that it is a bill of mercy and clemency, kind and indulgent to the Americans, calculated to soothe their feelings, and to favour their interests. But, my Lords, the true character of the bill is violent and hostile. My Lords, it is a bill of irritation and insult. It draws the sword, and in its necessary consequences plunges the empire into civil and unnatural war."n
On the Duke of Grafton's motion respecting the British forces in America, he said,
"I was against this unnatural war from the beginning. I was against every measure that has reduced us to our present state of difficulty and distress. When it is insisted that we aim only to defend and enforce our own rights, I positively deny it. I contend that America has been driven by cruel necessity to defend her rights from the united attacks of violence, oppression, and injustice. I affirm that America has been aggrieved. Perhaps as a domineering Englishman wishing to enjoy the ideal benefit of such a claim, I might urge it with earnestness and endeavour to carry my point; but if, on the other hand, I resided in America that I were to feel the effect of such manifest wrong, I should resist the attempt with that degree of ardour so daring a violation of what should be held dearer than life itself ought to enkindle in the breast of every freeman."o
Speaking a second time in this same debate, after he had been loudly reproached for the violence of his language, he said,
"Till I am fairly precluded from exercising my right as a Peer of this House, of declaring my sentiments openly, of discussing every subject submitted to my consideration with freedom, I shall never be prevented from performing my duty by any threats, however warmly and eagerly supported or secretly suggested. I do assure your Lordships I am heartily tired of the ineffectual struggle I am engaged in. I would thank any of your Lordships that would procure a vote of your Lordships for silencing me; it would be a favour more grateful than any other it is in the power of your Lordships to bestow; out, until that vote has received your Lordships' sanction, I must still think, and, as often as occasion may require, continue to assert, that Great Britain was the aggressor, that our acts with respect to America were oppressive, and that if I were an American I should resist to the last such manifest exertions of tyranny, violence, and injustice."p
Lord Camden, in his correspondence with the Duke of Grafton, afterwards gives an account of a serious illness of Lord Chatham which was kept secret from the world, and seems to have been a prelude to the closing scene of his glorious career. In a P.S. to a letter, dated July 27, 1777, he says,
"Since I wrote this I have received a melancholy account of a stroke received to-day by Lord Chatham, as he was riding. He fell from his horse, and lay senseless for ten minutes. The message to-night is, that he is very much recovered. Whether this was apoplectic, paralytic, or gout in the stomach, I cannot learn. I wish it may not prove fatal. The public has lost him, and I fear he and England will perish together."
In a few weeks after, he gives this statement of Lord Chatham's recovery and of his plans:
"I thought it better to wait till I could give you some satisfactory account of my neighbour Lord Chatham's health, and his intentions at the opening of parliament. If your Grace thinks as I do that the Earl's recovery may, upon some possible event, give a new turn to public affairs, you will not be sorry to hear that he is now (though it seems almost miraculous), in bodily health and in mental vigour, as equal to a strenuous exertion of his faculties as I have known him these seven years. His intention is to oppose the address, and declare his opinion very directly against the war, and to advise the recalling the troops, and then propose terms of accommodation wherein he would be very liberal and indulgent, with only one reserve and exception, viz. that of subjection to the mother country: for he never could bring himself to subscribe to the independence of America. This, in general, will be his line, and this he will pursue if he is alone. I should imagine your Grace would have no objection to concur with this plan, though it is certain beforehand that all the breath will be wasted, and the advice overruled by numbers. Yet it would be right to stand firm upon the same ground, and not depart an inch from our steady purpose of opposing this war for ever. Thus much I thought it my duty to impart to your Grace. For my own part I still continue in the same state of despondency, hoping nothing and fearing every thing."
On the memorable 7th of April, 1778, when Lord Chatham fell senseless on the floor of the House of Lords in a dying effort to save his country, Lord Camden, who was prepared to follow him in the debate, eagerly ran to his relief, and joined in the vote of adjournment to which the House immediately came. A few days after, in a letter to the Duke of Grafton, he wrote the following account the most graphic and the most authentic extant of that solemn scene:
"April, 1778, N. B. Street.
"My dear Lord,
"I cannot help considering the little illness which prevented your Grace from attending the House of Lords last Tuesday to have been a piece of good fortune, as it kept you back from a scene that would have overwhelmed you with grief and melancholy, as it did me and many others that were present: I mean Lord Chatham's fit, that seized him as he was attempting to rise and reply to the Duke of Richmond; he fell back upon his seat, and was to all appearance in the agonies of death. This threw the whole House into confusion; every person was upon his legs in a moment, hurrying from one place to another, some sending for assistance, others producing salts, and others reviving spirits. Many crowding about the Earl to observe his countenance all affected most part really concerned; and even those who might have felt a secret pleasure at the accident, yet put on the appearance of distress, except only the Earl of M., who sat still, almost as much unmoved as the senseless body itself.q Dr. Brocklesby was the first physician that came; but Dr. Addington, in about an hour, was brought to him. He was carried into the Prince's chamber, and laid upon the table supported by pillows. The first motion of life that appeared was an endeavour to vomit, and after he had discharged the load from his stomach that probably brought on the seizure, he revived fast. Mr. Strutt prepared an apartment for him at his house, where he was carried as soon as he could with safety be removed. He slept remarkably well, and was quite recovered yesterday, though he continued in bed. I have not heard how he is to-day, but will keep my letter open till the evening, that your Grace may be informed how he goes on. I saw him in the Prince's chamber before he went into the House, and conversed a little with him, but such was the feeble state of his body, and, indeed, the distempered agitation of his mind, that I did forebode that his strength would certainly fail him before he had finished his speech. In truth, he was not in a condition to go abroad, and he was earnestly requested not to make the attempt; but your Grace knows how obstinate he is when he is resolved. He had a similar fit to this in the summer; like it in all respects, in the seizure, the retching, and the recovery; and after that fit, as if it had been the crisis of the disorder, he recovered fast, and grew to be in better health than I had known him for many years. Pray Heaven that this may be attended with no worse consequences. The Earl spoke, but was not like himself; his speech faltered, his sentences broken, and his mind not master of itself. He made shift, with difficulty, to declare his opinion, but was not able to enforce it by argument. His words were shreds of unconnected eloquence, and flashes of the same fire which he, Prometheus like, had stolen from heaven, and were then returning to the place from whence they were taken. Your Grace sees even I, who am a mere prose man, am tempted to be poetical while I am discoursing of this extraordinary man's genius. The Duke of Richmond answered him, and I cannot help giving his Grace the commendation he deserves for his candour, courtesy, and liberal treatment of his illustrious adversary. The debate was adjourned till yesterday, and then the former subject was taken up by Lord Shelburne, in a speech of one hour and three quarters. The Duke of Richmond answered; Shelburne replied; and the Duke, who enjoys the privilege of the last word in that House, closed the business, no other Lord, except our friend Lord Ravensworth, speaking one word; the two other noble Lords consumed between three and four hours. And now, my dear Lord, you must with me lament this fatal accident; I fear it is fatal, and this great man is now lost for ever to his country; for, after such a public and notorious exposure of his decline, no man will look up to him, even if he should recover. France will no longer fear him, nor the King of England court him; and the present set of ministers will finish the ruin of the state, because, he being in effect superannuated, the public will call for no other men. This is a very melancholy reflection. The opposition, however, is not broken, and this difference of opinion will wear off; so far, at least, the prospect is favourable. I think I shall not sign the protest, though, in other respects, I shall be very friendly. I have troubled your Grace with a deal of stuff, but the importance of the subject will excuse me.
"Your Grace's, &c.
"P.S. I understand the Earl has slept well last night, and is to he removed to-day to Downing Street. He would have gone into the country, but Addington thinks he is too weak."
On the day when the debate was resumed, Lord Camden was silent; and it was remarked, that thenceforth during the rest of the struggle with America, being deprived of his great associate, from grief, or despair of doing good, he hardly ever addressed the House.
However, when the bill to mark the gratitude of the nation for the immortal services of Lord Chatham was opposed by the Lord Chancellor Apsley, although the King professed to approve of it, Lord Camden's indignation burst forth, and he exclaimed,
"The noble and learned Lord on the woolsack has praised very deservedly I hope with no insidious intention the memory of the Duke of Marlborough, but seems entirely to have forgotten the victories of the deceased Earl. I will remind the noble and learned Lord that while he, who it is now wished to treat with neglect, as if by some accident alone he had been elevated to an office he was incompetent to fill, ruled the destinies of this mighty empire, from the extremest east to the setting sun; in every quarter of the globe to earth's remotest bounds were the arms of England borne triumphant; our operations on the sea and on the land were invariably accompanied by extension of territory and extension of commerce, and we had at once all the glories of war and all the enjoyments of peace. But, my Lords', what I consider a more substantial claim to your admiration and your gratitude, he was ever the assertor of liberty and the defender of the rights of Englishmen at home and abroad. Had his advice been followed, the country would now have been free, tranquil, and happy; and it is only by returning to his principles that we can be rescued from the state of degradation and suffering to which, by despising them, we have been reduced."r
It is not very creditable to the House that, at the division, the attendance of Peers was so small; perhaps the dinner hour had arrived; but the bill was carried by a majority of 42 to 11.
Lord Camden warmly supported Lord Rockingham's motion for a censure on the manifesto of our Commissioners in America which put the country under martial law when he took occasion to reprobate the cruel manner in which hostilities were conducted, and still more the arrogant tone in which this cruelty was defended: "Were not tomahawks and scalping-knives considered, the proper instruments of war? Was not letting loose savages to scalp and murder the aged and the impotent, called using the instruments of war which God and nature have put into our hands?" Then, in the spirit of his departed friend, he counselled that, instead of trying to lay waste America, we should immediately strike a blow against France, evidently preparing to take part against us. "Distress France," said he; "render her incapable of assisting America. Attack France immediately; attack her powerfully by sea. England is still mistress of the ocean. To wound America is to wound ourselves. To aim a blow at France is to prevent a blow from being aimed at us by an inveterate enemy." The motion being negatived by 71 to 37, he drew up a spirited protest which was signed by almost all the Whig Peers.s
When the indecisive engagement off Ushant took place in the summer of 1778, Lord Camden, in a letter to the Duke of Grafton, showed much sagacity in penetrating the intentions of France and Spain to assist the Americans:
"Keppel's engagement with the French fleet is only the beginning of this cursed war. I don't apprehend the French avoided the action through fear, but policy, and that they came out of Brest only to provoke Keppel to make the first assault, so as to be justified in America, by maintaining England to be the aggressor, and so to bring the war within the case of their treaty of alliance, by which America is bound to assist, and, indeed, to be a principal in the French war, and Keppel's chasing will be called the first assault. These are my politics, for I am, as I always have been, persuaded that France was determined at all events to make the war, and I am equally certain that Spain will join, notwithstanding the Spanish ambassador's journey hither, which is no better than an imposture, and that too shallow to impose on any but children and our ministers."
In the session of 1779, Lord Camden entered into a laborious exposure of the abuses of Greenwich Hospital, which were rendered famous as the subject of Lord Erskine's first speech at the bar; and he was of essential service in rendering this noble establishment more beneficial for our brave seamen.
He then made an effort to obtain liberal measures for Ireland, which being withheld, up sprang the volunteers, who petitioned with arms in their hands: "I hope and believe," said he, "notwithstanding the ill treatment the Irish have received from this country, which has brought upon them an accumulation of distresses and calamities, they will still retain their affection and attachment for England. Let us meet them with generous kindness. Nothing should be done by halves nothing niggardly accompanied with apparent reluctance."t
Soon after, in a debate on pensions and sinecures, being taunted about his own pension, or, as we should call it, "retired allowance," he said "he received it for long services, and in lieu of a valuable office (Chief Justice of the Common Pleas), and it would be a hardship to his family to lose it, and the reversion which was to supersede it; but if they must be included in a measure for clearing away abuses, he should rejoice in it, however the loss might distress him, when he reflected on the great and permanent advantages which would thereby accrue to his country."u
In the autumn of this year Lord Camden proposed to the Duke of Grafton a new plan of operations to be pursued by the Opposition:
"A conversation with your Grace upon the state of the kingdom, at present, will give me as much satisfaction as I am capable of receiving upon so hopeless a subject. If your Grace can suggest any plan of proceeding for the Opposition, likely to change the Court system or animate the public, I shall be happy to adopt as well as to promote it. For my own part, I confess fairly my own opinion that the opposition to the Court is contracted to a handful of men within the walls of parliament, and that the people without doors are either indifferent or hostile to any opposition at all. Whether this singular and unexampled state of the country is owing to a consciousness among the people that they are as much to blame as the ministers, and are ashamed to confess their own error, or whether, in truth, they hold the Opposition so cheap as to think the kingdom would suffer instead of mending by the exchange, or, from a combination of all these motives, choose to suffer patiently rather than encounter the troubles that are apt to follow upon a general disturbance: whatever is the cause of that slavish resignation which is predominant at present, the fact is, they do not desire a change. What then is to be done in order to obtain some degree of popularity? I shall make a simple answer by saying, 'Nothing!' and yet perhaps that nothing, if well conducted, might have a stronger operation than the vain repetition of those feeble efforts that have hitherto been made in parliament by perpetual wrangles, personal animosity, abuse, and bad language, for this attack has been returned twofold upon us, and has set the parties against each other like a couple of prize-fighters combating for the entertainment of the gazing public who are greatly diverted by a blow soundly given or dexterously parried, without a wish for the victory of either of the combatants. This has been the conduct of Opposition hitherto. If, on the other hand, a firm and temperate Opposition in short speeches, a few debates without rancour, could be established, such a course might probably restore us to the good opinion of the public, and then the distress of the times might work them into an opinion that the Opposition mean really the good of the whole. This or any idea may serve to talk of, but, to say the truth, I have no hopes left for the public; the whole people have betrayed themselves, and are not worth fighting for."
In the session of 1780 Lord Camden delivered a very long and animated speech in answer to Lord Thurlow, now Chancellor, who was resolved to throw out a bill which the Commons had passed almost unanimously, to disqualify Government contractors from sitting in their House. He began by observing that "his noble and learned friend on the woolsack had maintained his opposition to the bill in contradiction to the clearest principles of the constitution, indeed to every rule of common sense and common experience, and to the whole system of parliamentary jurisprudence. His noble and learned friend had expressed himself in very strong language against innovation, and had rallied their Lordships to the post of danger, as if the constitution were to be overturned; but might not the same opposition have been given in the same words to bills now universally acknowledged to be necessary to preserve the purity and efficiency of our representative system, the Place Bill, the Pension Bill, and the Bill for disqualifying officers of the Excise or Customs from sitting in the other House, because they may be preferred or dismissed at the pleasure of the Crown? Would his noble and learned friend have called these measures 'idle and fanciful suggestions, the phrenzy of virtue and the madness of ideal perfection?'" The bill was rejected by a majority of 61 to 41, a decision which rendered the Lords very odious, the Commons a few days before having passed the famous resolution moved by Dunning "That the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished."x
A debate took place, in the beginning of 1781, on the King's message relative to the rupture with Holland, which made the situation of public affairs still more difficult and alarming. There being, as yet, no symptom of any change of policy on the part of the Government, Lord Camden, rising with great solemnity, and speaking in a tone of the deepest grief, said:
"He rose from a call of duty, for the last time, and, whatever might be the event of this final effort to save his country, at least to mitigate her distresses and misfortunes, he should retire from his fruitless attendance in that House with this consolation, that he had discharged his duty to the best of his poor abilities so long as it promised to be productive of the smallest or remotest good, and that he declined giving their Lordships any further trouble where hope was at an end, and when zeal even had no object which could call it into activity. He regretted that he had not formed the resolution earlier, as he should thus have been saved from much chagrin and a series of the most mortifying disappointments, for he had been able in no degree to prevent or retard the ruin which now seemed impending."y
He interfered no farther with any political question during this protracted session; but in the recess which followed there was such a loud expression of public opinion against the war, and such strong rumours were circulated of Lord North's wish to retire, that when parliament re-assembled, he attended to make another effort for peace. His speech, on supporting the amendment moved by Lord Shelburne, was, I think, decidedly the best he ever delivered in Parliament, and it is fully and correctly reported; but, to its credit, there is no passage in it which I can select for quotation. Instead of aiming at fine sentences, (the sin which most easily beset him,) he confined himself to a simple and rapid narrative of facts, from which he deduced the incapacity of ministers, and attempted to show that the only chance of saving the empire from final ruin, as well as dismemberment, was by an immediate change of men and of measures.
The extraordinary merit of this speech is said to be demonstrated by the eulogy which it extorted from the unwilling Thurlow, who followed in the debate :z but, with more doubtful claims to praise, it might possibly have been very favourably criticised by this dissembler, who, under the guise of bluntness, had ever a keen eye to his own advantage, and who, seeing a change approaching, was rather willing to soothe opponents, and to show that his enmities were placable. Whatever might be his motives, he thus began:
"I must acknowledge, my Lords, the great abilities of the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down. I affirm that, to the best of my judgment, I never heard a more able discourse within these walls: the premises were openly and clearly stated, and the deductions followed without constraint or false colouring. I trust that the noble and learned Lord will receive these as my real sentiments, for I am not at any time much in the habit of travelling out of the business before the House, to keep up the trivial forms of debate much less to pay particular personal compliments to any man."
He then proceeded to combat the amendment, which was negatived by 75 to 31, but which he well knew embodied the sentiments of a majority of both Houses.a
The crisis soon arrived; Lord North declaring in the House of Commons, on the day fixed for Lord Surrey's motion on "the state of the nation," that "his Majesty's ministers were no more."b Now was formed the second Rockingham administration, and the Whigs, till they quarrelled among themselves, were completely in the ascendant. There was considerable difficulty in disposing of the Great Seal. Lord Camden might, no doubt, have resumed it with the full concurrence of all sections of the party, but for twelve long years he had been unaccustomed to daily judicial drudgery; he was now verging upon seventy, and his attacks of the gout were becoming more frequent and more severe. He, therefore, preferred the office of President of the Council.
It has always been unaccountable to me, that, on his declining the Great Seal, it was not given to Dunning, a most consummate lawyer, as well as a great debater and a zealous Whig. If he unaccountably preferred the Duchy of Lancaster, the subordinate office conferred upon him, why was not the Great Seal given to Sir Fletcher Norton, who had become a favourite with the Rockingham Whigs, and was most eager for judicial elevation? The King, no doubt, was desirous that Thurlow should still be the "Keeper of his conscience," so that he might have a "friend" in the Cabinet; but his wishes at that moment might easily have been controlled. I suspect that the Shelburne and Rockingham sections continued distinct even at the formation of the government, Dunning belonging to the former, and Norton to the latter, and that neither would agree to the appointment of the other's lawyer to the woolsack. This jealousy was openly manifested in a few days, for, although it be the province of the prime minister to "take the King's pleasure" with respect to the creation of peers, Dunning was made Baron Ashburton on the advice of Lord Shelburne, without the knowledge of Lord Rockingham; whereupon Lord Rockingham immediately insisted that Norton should be made Baron Grantley. Thus the Great Seal remained in the clutch of Thurlow, who hated all Whigs of all degrees with a most perfect hatred, and could not possibly be expected cordially to act in a Government founded on principles which he had uniformly and vehemently opposed.
a It was on this occasion that Lord Chatham exclaimed "If the constitution must be wounded, let it not receive its mortal stab at this dark and midnight hour."
b As far as the original expulsion goes, Lord Camden had forgotten his first opinion. Ante, vol. vi p 390.
c 16 Parl. Hist. 824.
d 16 Parl. Hist. 963, 1306. No other discussion respecting Lord Camden's conduct while Chancellor, or his dismission, appears in the printed parliamentary debates. But the Duke of Grafton, in his Journal, says: "At this time Lord Chatham's virulence seemed to be directed against myself: he persisted for some days in the intention of charging me in parliament with having advised the removal of Lord Camden, on account of his vote in the House; nor was he dissuaded from this till Lord Camden had assured him that he knew so perfectly that the advice did not come from me, that he should, if his Lordship made the motion, think it incumbent on him to rise in his place and declare that he well knew it was not from my advice."
e The Seals were now in commission, and Lord Mansfield presided as Speaker in the House of Lords.
f 16 St. Tr 1317, 1321.
g MSS. of Marquis Camden.
h 17 Parl. Hist. 992. Donaldson v. Becket.
i Ib. 1402.
k Stat. 5 & 6 Vic. c. 45.
m It is surprising to find this great constitutional lawyer recommending secession from parliament a measure wrong in principle, and which has invariably been injurious to the party resorting to it.
n 18 Parl. Hist. 436.
o 18 St. Tr. 947.
p 18 St. Tr. 954. See also 18 Parl. Hist. 36. 164, 209, 271, 292, 432, 436, 454, 656, 675, 811, 901, 953, 1222, 1278, 1284; vol. xix. 337 394, 625, 640, 652, 664, 738, 860,
q It appears by the Journals that there were only two Earls bearing titles beginning with an M. present that day the Earl of Marchmont and the Earl of Mansfield. I am much afraid that the latter is alluded to he only is represented as sitting, in Copley's famous picture of this scene.
r 19 Parl. Hist. 1239.
s 20 Parl. Hist. 43
t 90 Parl. Hist. 670.
u Ibid. 1363.
x 21 Parl. Hist. 340, 414-459.
y 21 Parl. Hist. 1060.
z See Lord Brougham's "Statesmen of George III.," 3rd series, 177
a 22 Parl. Hist. 637-679.
b Ib. 1214.
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