Disappointed in their hopes from England, educated Roman Catholic opinion in Ireland began to drift towards the United Irishmen, in spite of the[462] peasants' war that was rife in various parts of the country between the members of the two religions. Suddenly their expectations received an unlooked-for impulse. During the spring of 1794 Pitt determined to send over Lord Fitzwilliam, who was heir to the Marquis of Rockingham and a prominent member of the Portland Whigs, as Lord-Lieutenant. It was clearly understood that Fitzwilliam should be allowed to inaugurate a policy of reform, but Pitt wished that reform to be gradual and cautious. It is plain that he gave Grattan intimation to that effect, and that Grattan thought the stipulation a reasonable one, but it is equally clear that he somehow or other failed to make much impression upon Fitzwilliam. No sooner had the new Lord-Lieutenant arrived in Ireland than he proceeded to dismiss Castle officials before he could possibly have had time to inquire into the rights and wrongs of their cases, and with equal abruptness turned out the Attorney, and Solicitor-General, and Mr. Beresford, the Commissioner of Revenue, the head of the most powerful of the Protestant families. The result was a violent outcry, which was increased when he proceeded, in conjunction with Grattan, to draw up a Bill for the immediate granting of the Catholic claims. The Ascendency party clamoured for his recall, and the Lord Chancellor Fitzgibbon represented to the king that to admit Roman Catholics to Parliament would be to violate his Coronation Oath. Pitt was obliged to give way, and on March 25th, 1794, Fitzwilliam left Ireland, amidst every sign of national mourning. The incident is a melancholy one, but a calm review of the circumstances produces the conclusion that the indiscretion of Lord Fitzwilliam was very much the cause of it.

By permission of Messrs. S. Hildesheimer & Co., Ltd.

Scotland, before the Reform Bill, was ruled by an oligarchy. The population was two millions and a half, the constituency was only 2,500. The power was to be taken from this small junto, and extended to the great middle class of that intelligent and loyal people. In Ireland, a host of rotten boroughs, some without any constituency at all, was to be swept away. The general result would be an increase for the United Kingdom of half a million electors, making the whole number enjoying the franchise 900,000. Of these 50,000 would be found in the new towns, created into Parliamentary boroughs in England, 110,000 additional electors in boroughs already returning members. For instance, London would have[331] 95,000; the English counties, 100,000; Scotland, 60,000; Ireland, 40,000. The House would consist in all of 596 members, being a reduction of sixty-two on the existing number of 658. The number of seats abolished was 168, which reduced the House to 490. Five additional members were given to Scotland, three to Ireland, one to Wales, eight to London, thirty-four to large English towns, and fifty-five to English counties. At length the Sikhs moved on to meet the British on the 18th of December. When they came in sight, the British bugles sounded, and the wearied soldiers, who had been lying on the ground, started up and stood to their arms. The Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief rode from regiment to regiment, cheering the spirits of their men, and rousing them to the needful pitch of valour by encouraging exhortations. About two miles from Moodkee, Gough, at the head of the advanced guard, found the enemy encamped behind sandy hillocks and jungle, 20,000 strong, with forty guns, which immediately opened fire as he approached. The battlefield was a sandy plain, on which the view was obstructed by small hills, which prevented the belligerents from seeing one another till they were quite near. For some time the contest was maintained on both sides by the artillery. Then General Gough ordered the advance of a column of cavalrythe 3rd Light Dragoons, the 5th Light Cavalry, and the 4th Lancers. The column was launched like an immense thunderbolt against a mass of Sikh cavalry, and proved so irresistible in its terrific onset that it broke them up into fragments, scattered them about, and swept along the whole line of the enemy, cutting down the gunners, and suspending for a time the roar of their artillery. Soon afterwards the infantry came into action, led on by Sir Harry Smith, General Gilbert, and Sir John M'Caskill. The Sikhs fought bravely and obstinately at every point; but when the steady incessant fire of the artillery had done its work, a general charge was made, with loud, exultant cheers, and the enemy were driven from their ground with tremendous loss. The day had closed upon the battlefield, but the routed enemy were pursued for a mile and a half by the light of the stars.

The new Parliament met on the 14th of November. Mr. Manners Sutton was re-elected Speaker. A week was spent in the swearing-in of members, and on the 21st the Session was opened by the king in person. In the Royal Speech allusion was made to the throwing open of the ports for the admission of foreign grain, and the distress that had visited the manufacturing districts. The Address was carried in the Upper House without a division, and in the Lower House an amendment, moved by Mr. Hume, found only twenty-four supporters. On the 5th of December Alderman Waithman moved for a committee of inquiry with reference to the part taken by members of Parliament in the Joint Stock mania of 1824-5-6. He stated that within the last three years six hundred joint-stock companies had been formed, most of them for dishonest purposes. The directors of these fraudulent schemes worked with the market as they pleased, forcing up the prices of shares to sell, and depressing them to buy, pocketing the difference. He dwelt particularly on the Arignon Mining Company, of which the late chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, Mr. Brogden, had been a director. The directors of this company, besides an allowance of three guineas per day for the use of their names, had divided between them a large surplus, arising from traffic in shares. Other members of the House, he alleged, had enriched themselves by bubble companies, particularly Sir William Congreve. At the suggestion of Mr. Canning, the inquiry was restricted to the Arignon Company. A vast amount of loss and suffering had been inflicted by these bubble companies. A check was given to the steady and wholesome progress of the country by the fever of excitement, followed by a sudden and terrible collapse. Healthful commerce was blighted, and one of the worst results of the revulsion was that it not only swept away the delusive projects of adventurers, but paralysed for a season the operations of legitimate enterprise. The commercial atmosphere, however, had been cleared by the monetary crisis of 1825-6. An extensive decomposition of commercial elements was effected. Masses of fictitious property were dispersed, and much of the real capital of the country was distributed in new and safe channels, which caused the year 1827 to open with more cheering prospects. On the 21st of January another great breach was made, and another attempt to carry the place by assault; but it was repelled with terrible slaughter, upwards of six hundred men being killed or wounded. At the same time, Meer Khan, with eight thousand horse, endeavoured to cut off a great train of camels and bullocks bringing up provisions, but was defeated, as were the united[514] forces of Meer Khan, Holkar, and the Rajah of Bhurtpore, in a similar attempt to intercept another provision train on its way from Agra. In order to compel Lake to raise the siege of Bhurtpore, Meer Khan made an incursion with his own cavalry, and a powerful reinforcement of Pindarrees, into the Doab, the Company's territory. But Lord Lake was not to be drawn away from the fort. He despatched Major-General Smith with a body of horse and the horse artillery, who followed the track of Meer Khan, marked by burning villages and desolated fields, and coming up with him, on the 1st of March, near Afzulgur, he routed him with great slaughter, dispersing and almost annihilating his force. During this expedition, which lasted a month, and in which the British crossed and re-crossed the Ganges and the Jumna several times, they gave a splendid example of the effective condition of our troops in India.

On the 23rd, only four days after the abdication of the king, Murat entered Madrid with a numerous body of infantry and cuirassiers, attended by a splendid train of artillery. Ferdinand entered the city the same day. He had formed an administration wholly opposed to Godoy and his policy. The Ambassadors of the other Powers presented themselves to offer their congratulations; but Beauharnais, the French Ambassador, preserved a profound silence. Murat, also, though he professed himself friendly to Ferdinand, said not a word implying recognition of his title. Still more ominous, the news arrived that Buonaparte himself was on the way with another powerful army. Murat took up his residence in the Palace of the Prince of the Peace, and greatly alarmed Ferdinand and his courtiers by addressing him, not as "your Majesty," but merely as "your Royal Highness." He counselled him to wait, and do nothing till he could advise with Napoleon, and, in the meantime, to send his brother, Don Carlos, to greet the Emperor on his entrance into Spain. To this Ferdinand consented; but when Murat recommended him also to go, and show this mark of respect to his ally, Ferdinand demurred, and by the advice of Cevallos, one of his wisest counsellors, he declined the suggestion. To complicate matters, Murat opened communication with the king and queen, and, not content with that, with Godoy also, assuring him that his only hope of safety lay in the friendship of the Emperor. By this means Murat learned all the accusations that each party could make against the other, so that these things might serve Buonaparte to base his measures, or, at least, his pretences upon. Encouraged by this, Charles[552] wrote to Napoleon to declare his abdication entirely forced, and to leave everything to the decision of his good friend, the Emperor. On the 12th of February Parliament was opened by a speech, not from the Prince Regent in person, but by commission, the commissioners being the[11] Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Duke of Montrose, and the Earls Camden and Westmoreland. The speech was of the most belligerent character, recounting the success of our arms in the Indian seas, in repelling the attack of the Neapolitans on Sicily, and, above all, in the Peninsula. Lord Grenville opposed the address, considering the war as hopeless, and as mischievous to our interests. It was carried in both Houses without a division. Perceval, on the 21st, announced that the prince was desirous not to add any fresh burdens to the country in existing circumstances, and therefore declined any addition to his establishment as Regent.

Strong as was the majority of Ministers, however, the king did not wait for their resigning. The day after this debate (Thursday, December 18th), the king sent, at twelve o'clock at night, to Fox and Lord North an order to surrender their seals of office to their Under-Secretaries, as a personal interview, in the circumstances, would be disagreeable. Fox instantly delivered up his; but Lord North was already in bed, and had entrusted his seal to his son, Colonel North, who could not be found for some time. The Seals were then delivered to Lord Temple, who, on the following day, sent letters of dismissal to all the other members of the coalition Cabinet. Pitt, though in his twenty-fifth year only, was appointed first Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and on him devolved the duty of forming a new Administration. Earl Gower was nominated President of the Council, and Lord Temple one of the Secretaries of State. When the House of Commons met in the afternoon, Fox imagined, from a motion of Dundas to proceed to business without the usual adjournment on Saturday, that it was the object of the new party to pass certain money Bills, and then resort to a dissolution. Fox opposed the motion, declaring that a dissolution at this moment would produce infinite damage to[304] the service of the nation, and that, should it take place in order to suit the convenience of an ambitious young man (meaning Pitt), he would, immediately on the meeting of the new House, move for an inquiry into the authors and advisers of it, in order to bring them to punishment. This caused Lord Temple, who had occasioned the breaking up of the Coalition, to resign again immediately, declaring that he preferred meeting any aspersions upon him in his private and individual capacity. This certainly removed a great danger from his colleagues, although it rendered the task of his friend and relative, Pitt, still more difficult, in having to form an Administration alone. The Ministry was then filled up thus:Lord Sydney, Secretary of State for the Home Department; the Marquis of Carmarthen for the Foreign; the Duke of Rutland, Lord Privy Seal; Lord Gower became President of the Council; the Duke of Richmond, Master-General of the Ordnance; Lord Thurlow again Chancellor; Lord Howe, First Lord of the Admiralty. With the exception of Pitt, the whole of the Cabinet was drawn from the House of Lords. When the Commons met, on the 22nd, Mr. Bankes said he was authorised by Mr. Pitt, who was not in the House, a new writ for Appleby being moved for on his appointment to office, to say that he had no intention to advise a dissolution. His Majesty, on the 24th of December, having also assured the House that he would not interrupt their meeting after the recess by either prorogation or dissolution, the House adjourned till the 12th of January, 1784.