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Mr. Sheridan, who was now high in the confidence of the Prince, had twice, in the course of the year 1786, taken occasion to allude publicly to the embarrassments of His Royal Highness. Indeed, the decisive measure which this Illustrious Person himself had adopted , in reducing his establishment, and devoting a part of his income to the discharge of his debts, sufficiently proclaimed the true state of affairs to the public. Still, however, the strange policy was persevered in, of adding the discontent of the Heir-Apparent to the other weapons in the hands of the Opposition ;-and, as might be expected, they were not tardy in turning it to account. In the spring of 1787, the embarrassed state of His Royal Highness's affairs was brought formally under the notice of parliament by Alderman Newenham.
During one of the discussions to which the subject gave rise , Mr. Rolle, the member for Devonshire, a strong adherent of the ministry, in deprecating the question about to be agitated, affirmed that it went immediately to affect our Constitution in Church and State.” In these solemn words it was well understood, that he alluded to a report at that time generally believed, and, indeed , acted upon by many in the etiquette of private life, that a marriage had been solemnized between the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Filzherbert-a lady of the Roman Catholic persuasion, who, with more danger to her own peace than to that of either Church or State, had for some time been the distinguished object of His Royal Highness's affection.
Even had an alliance of this description taken place, the provisions of the Royal Marriage Act would have nullified it into a mere ceremony, inefficient, as it was supposed, for any other purpose than that of satisfying the scruples of one of the parties. But that dread of Popery, which in England starts at its own shadow, took alarm at the consequences of an intercourse so heterodox; and it became necessary, in the opinion of the Prince and his friends, to put an end to the apprehensions that were abroad on the subject.
Nor can it be denied that, in the minds of those who believed that the marriage had been actually solemnized', there were, in one point of view, very sufficient grounds of alarm. By the Statute of William and Mary, commonly called the Bill of Rights, it is enacted, among other causes of exclusion from the throne,
every person who shall marry a Papist shall be excluded, and for ever be incapable to inherit the crown of this realm.”—In such cases (adds this truly revolutionary Act) “ the people of these realms shall be and are hereby absolved of their allegiance. » Under this Act,
Horne Tooke, in his insidious pamphlet on the subject, presumed so far on this belief as to call Mrs. Fitzherbert “Her Royal Highness.”
which was confirmed by the Act of Settlement, it is evident that the Heir Apparent would , by such a marriage as was now attributed to him, have forfeited his right of succession to the throne. From so serious a penalty, however, it was generally supposed, he would have been exempted by the operation of the Royal marriage Act (12 George III.), which rendered null and void any marriagecontracted by any descendant of George II. without the previous consent of the King, or a twelvemonth’s notice given to the Privy Council.
That this Act would have nullified the alleged marriage of the Prince of Wales there is, of course, no doubt;--but that it would have also exempted him from the forfeiture incurred by marriage with a Papist, is a point which, in the minds of many, still remains a question. There are, it is well known, analogous cases in Law, where the nullity of an illegal transaction does not do away the penalty attached to it". To persons, therefore, who believed that the actual solemnization of the marriage could be proved by witnesses present at the ceremony, this view of the case, which seemed to promise an interruption of the Succession, could not fail to suggest some disquieting apprehensions and speculations, which nothing short, it was thought, of a public and authentic disavowal of the marriage altogether would be able effectually to allay.
If in politics Princes are unsafe allies, in connections of a tenderer nature they are still more perilous partners; and a triumph over a Royal lover is dearly bought by the various risks and humiliations which accompany it. Not only is a lower standard of constancy applied to persons of that rank, but when once love-affairs are converted into matters of state, there is an end to all the delicacy and mystery that ought to encircle them. The disavowal of a Royal marriage in the Gazette would have been no novelty in English history?; and the disclaimer, on the present occasion, though intrusted to a less official medium, was equally public, strong, and unceremonious.
Mr. Fox, who had not been present in the House of Commons when the member for Devonshire alluded to the circumstance, took
· Thus a man, by contracting a second marriage pending the first marriage, commits a felony; and the crime, according to its legal description, consists in ibarrying, or contracting a marriage—though what he does is no more a marriage than that of the Heir Apparent would be under the circumstances in question.
The same principle, it appears, runs through the whole Law of Entails, both in England and Scotland; and a variety of cases might be cited, in which , though the act done is void , yet the doing of it creates a forfeiture.
See in Ellis's Letters of History, vol. iii, the declarations of Charles II. with respect to his marriage with "one Mrs. Walters," signed by himself, and published in The London Gazette.
occasion, on the next discussion of the question, and as he declared, with the immediate authority of the Prince, to contradict the report of the marriage in the fullest and most unqualified terms :-it was, he said, “a miserable calumny, a low malicious falsehood, which had been propagated without doors, and made the wanton sport of the vulgar;-a tale, fit only to impose upon the lowest orders, a monstrous invention, a report of a fact which had not the smallest degree of foundation, actually impossible to have happened." To an observation from Mr. Rolle, that “they all knew there was an Act of Parliament which forbade such a marriage; but that, though it could not be done under the formal sanction of the law, there were ways in which it might have taken place, and in which that law, in the minds of some persons, might have been satisfactorily evaded, "-Mr. Fox replied, that he did not deny the calumny in question merely with regard to certain existing laws, but that he denied it in toto, in point of fact as well as of law :-it not only never could have happened legally, but it never did happen in any way whatsoever, and had from the beginning been a base and malicious falsehood.
Though Mr. Rolle, from either obstinacy or real distrust, refused, in spite of the repeated calls of Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Grey, to declare himself satisfied with this declaration, it was felt by the minister to be at least sufficiently explicit and decisive, to leave him no further pretext, in the eyes of the public , for refusing the relief which the situation of the Prince required, Accordingly, a message from the Crown on the subject of His Royal Highness's debts was followed by an addition to his income of 10,000l. yearly out of the Civil List; an issue of 161,000l. from the same source, for the discharge of his debts; and 20,0001. on account of the works at Carlton House.
In the same proportion that this authorised declaration was successful in satisfying the public mind, it must naturally have been painful and humiliating to the person whose honour was involved in it. The immediate consequence of this feeling was a breach between that person and Mr. Fox, which, notwithstanding the continuance, for so many years after , of the attachment of both to the same illustrious object, remained'it is understood, unreconciled to the last.
If, in the first movement of sympathy with the pain excited in that quarter, a retractation of this public disavowal was thought of, the impossibility of finding any creditable medium through which to convey it must soon have suggested itself to check the intention. Some middle course, however, it was thought might be adopted, which, without going the full length of retracting, might tend at least to unsettle the impression left upon the public, and, in some degree, retrieve that loss of station, which a disclaimer, coming in such an authentic shape, had entailed. To ask Mr. Fox to discredit his own statement was impossihle. An application was, therefore, made to a young member of the party, who was then fast rising into the eminence which he has since so nobly sustained, and whose answer to the proposal is said to have betrayed some of that unaccommodating high-mindedness which, in more than one collision with Royalty, has proved him but an unfit adjunct to a Court. The reply to his refusal was, “Then, I must get Sheridan to say something;”—and hence, it seems was the origin of those few dexterously unmeaning compliments, with which the latter, when the motion of Alderman Newenham was withdrawn, endeavoured, without in the least degree weakening the declaration of Mr. Fox, to restore that equilibrium of temper and self-esteem, which such a sacrifice of gallantry to expediency had naturally disturbed. In alluding to the offer of the Prince, through Mr. Fox, to answer any questions upon the subject of his reported marriage, which it might be thought proper to put to him in the House, Mr. Sheridan said, “That no such idea had been pursued, and no such enquiry had been adopted, was a point which did credit to the decorum, the feelings, and the dignity of Parliament. But whilst His Royal Highness's feelings had no doubt been considered on this occasion, he must take the liberty of saying, however some might think it a subordinate consideration, that there was another person entitled, in every delicate and honourable mind, to the same attention ; one, whom he would not otherwise venture to describe or allude to, but by saying it was a name,
which malice or ignorance alone could attempt to injure, and whose character and conduct claimed and were entitled to the truest respect.”
Impeachment of Mr. Hastings.
The motion of Mr. Burke on the 10th of May, 1787, Warren Hastings, Esq., be impeached," having been carried without a division, Mr. Sheridan was appointed one of the Managers, 6 to make good the Articles” of the Impeachment; and, on the 3d of June in the following year, brought forward the same Charge in Westminster Hall which he had already enforced with such wonderful talent in the House of Commons.
To be called upon for a second great effort of eloquence, on a subject of which all the facts and the bearings remained the same, was, it must be acknowledged, no ordinary trial to even the most fertile genius ; and Mr. Fox, it is said , hopeless of any second flight ever rising to the grand elevation of the first , advised that the former Speech should be, with very little change, repeated. But such a plan, however welcome it might be to the indolence of his friend, would have looked too like an acknowledgment of exhaustion on the subject, to be submitted to by one so justly confident in the resources' both of his reason and fancy. Accordingly, he had the glory of again opening, in the very same field, a new and abundant spring of eloquence, which, during four days, diffused its enchantment among an assembly of the most illustrious persons of the land, and of which Mr. Burke pronounced at its conclusion, that “ of all the various species of oratory, of every kind of eloquence that had been heard, either in ancient or modern times; whatever the acuteness of the bar, the dignity of the senate, or the morality of the pulpit, could furnish, had not been equal to what that House had that day heard in Westminster Hall. No holy religionist, no man of any description as a literary character, could have come up, in the one instance, to the pure sentiments of morality, or in the other, to the variety of knowledge, force of imagination, propriety and vivacity of allusion, beauty and elegance of diction, and strength of expression, to which they had that day listened. From poetry up to eloquence there was not a species of composition of which a complete and perfect specimen might not have been culled, from one part or the other of the speech to which he alluded, and which , he was persuaded, had left too strong an impression on the minds of that House to be easily obliterated.”
As some atonement to the world for the loss of the Speech in the House of Commons, this second master-piece of eloquence on the same subject has been preserved to us in a Report, from the shorthand notes of Mr. Gurney, which was for some time in the possession of the late Duke of Norfolk, but was afterwards restored to Mr. Sheridan, and is now in my hands.
In order to enable the reader fully to understand the extracts from this Report which I am about to give, it will be necessary to detail briefly the history of the transaction, on which the charge brought forward in the Speech was founded.
Among the native Princes who, on the transfer of the sceptre of Tamerlane to the East India Company, became tributaries or rather slaves to that Honourable body, none seems to have been treated with more capricious cruelty than Cheyte Sing, the Rajah of Benares. In defiance of a solemn treaty, entered into between him and the government of Mr. Hastings, by which it was stipulated that, be
his fixed tribute, no further demands of any kind, should be made upon him, new exactions were every year enforced ;-while the humble remonstrances of the Rajah against such gross injustice