Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

for its existence,-this lofty appeal to loyalty was heard and welcomed. Its effect upon the already tottering Whig party was like that of " the Voice ,"' in the ruins of Rome, “disparting towers." The whole fabric of the old Rockingham confederacy shook to its base. Even some, who afterwards recovered their equilibrium, at first yielded to the eloquence of this extraordinary book,—which, like the æra of chivalry, whose loss it deplores, mixes a grandeur with error, and throws a charm round political superstition, that will long render its pages a sort of region of Royal romance, to which fancy will have recourse for illusions that have lost their last hold on the reason,

The undisguised freedom wilh which Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan expressed every where their opinions of this work and its principles had, of course, no small influence on the temper of the author, and, while it confirmed him in his hatred and jealousy of the one, prepared him for the breach which he meditated with the other. This breach was now, indeed, daily expected, as a natural sequel to the rupture with Mr. Sheridan in the last session ; but, by various accidents and interpositions, the crisis was delayed till the 6th of May, when the recommitment of the Quebec Bill,-a question, upon which both orators had already taken occasion to unfold their views of the French Revolution,-furnished Burke with an opportunity; of which he impetuously took advantage, to sever the tie between himself and Mr. Fox for ever.

This scene,-so singular in a public assembly, where the natural affections were but seldom called out, and where, though bursts of temper like that of Burke are common, such tears as those shed by Mr. Fox are rare phænomena ,-has been so often described in various publications, that it would be superfluous to enter into the details of it here. The following are the solemn and stern words in which sentence of death was pronounced upon a friendship, that bad now lasted for more than the fourth part of a century.

It certainly,” said Mr. Burke, “ was indiscretion at any period, but especially at his lime of life, to provoke enemies, or to give his friends occasion to desert him; yet, if his firm and steady adherence to the British Constitution placed him in such a dilemma, he would risk all, and, as public duty and public prudence taught him, with his last words exclaim, ‘Fly from the French Constitution.'” [Mr, Fox here whispered, that "there was no loss of friendship."] Mr. Burke said, “Yes, there was a loss of friendship ;-he knew the price of his conduct ;-he had done his duty at the price of his friend;—their friendship was at an end.”

In rising to reply to the speech of Burke, Mr. Fox was so affected as to be for some moments unable to speak :- he wept, it is said,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

even to sobbing; and persons who were in the gallery at the time declare, that, while he spoke, there was hardly a dry eye around them.

Had it been possible for two natures so incapable of disguise—the one from simplicity and frankness, the other from ungovernable temper,--to have continued in relations of amity, notwithstanding their disagreement upon a question which was at that moment setting the world in arms, both themselves and the country would have been the better for such a compromise between them. Their long habits of mutual deference would have mingled with and moderated the discussion of their present differences ;-the tendency to one common centre to which their minds had been accustomed, would have prevented them from flying so very widely asunder; and both might have been thus saved from those extremes of principle, which Mr. Burke always, and Mr. Fox sometimes, had recourse lo in defending their respective opinions, and which, by lighting , as it were, the torch at bolh ends, but hastened a conflagration in which liberty herself might have been the sufferer. But it was evident that such a compromise would have been wholly impossible. Even granting that Mr. Burke did not welcome the schism as a relief, neither the temper of the men nor the spirit of the times, which converted opinions at once into passions, would have admitted of such a peaceable counterbalance of principles, nor suffered them long to slumber in that hollow truce, which Tacitus has described,

manente in speciem amicitia.” Mr. Sheridan saw this from the first ; and, in hasarding that vehement speech by which he provoked the ruplure between himself and Burke, neither his judgment nor his temper were so much off their guard as they who blamed that speech seemed inclined to infer. But, perceiving that a separation was in the end inevitable, he thought it safer, perhaps, as well as manlier, to encounter the extremities at once, than by any temporizing delay, or too complaisant suppression of opinion, to involve both himself and Mr. Fox in the suspicion of either sharing or countenancing that spirit of defection, which, he saw, was fast spreading among the rest of their associates.

It is indeed said, and with every appearance of truth, that Mr. Sheridan had felt offended by the censures which some of his political friends had pronounced upon the indiscretion (as it was called) of his speech in the last year, and that, having, in consequence, withdrawn from them the aid of his powerful talents during a great part of the present session, he but returned to his post under the express condition, that he should be allowed to take the earliest opportunity of repeating, fully and explicitly, the same ayowal of his seotiments.

66

The following letter from Dr. Parr to Mrs. Sheridan, written immediately after the scene between Burke and Sheridan in the preceding year, is curious :

“ DEAR MADAM,

I am most fixedly and most indignantly on the side of Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Fox against Mr. Burke. It is not merely French politics that produced this dispute ;--they might have been settled privately. No, no, - there is jealousy lurking underneath ;-jealousy of Mr. Sheridan's eloquence ;-jealousy of his popularity ;-jealousy of his influence with Mr. Fox;-jealousy, perhaps, of his connection with the Prince.

6. Mr. Sheridan was, I think, not too warm; or, at least, I should have myself been warmer. Why, Burke accused Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan of acts leading to rebellion, --and he made Mr. Fox a dupe, and Mr. Sheridan a traitor! I think this,-and I am sure, yes, positively sure, that nothing else will allay the ferment of mens’ minds. Mr. Sheridan ought, publicly in Parliament, to demand proof, or a retractation, of this horrible charge. Pitt's words never did the party half the hurt;—and, just on the eve of an election, it is worse. As to private bickerings, or private concessions and reconciliations, they are all nothing. In public all must be again taken up; for if drowned , the Public will say, and Pitt will insinuate, that the charge is well founded, and that they dare not provoke an enquiry

" I know Burke is not addicted to giving up,-and so much the worse for him and his party. As to Mr. Fox's yielding, well had it been for all, all, all the party, if Mr. Fox had, now and then, stood ouť against Mr. Burke. The ferment and alarm are universal, and something must be done ;-for it is a conflagration in which they must perish, unless it be stopped. All the papers are with Burke, —even the Foxite papers, which I have seen. I know his violence, and temper, and obstinacy of opinion, and—but I will not speak out, for, though I think him the greatest man upon the earth , yet , in politics I think him ,—what he has been found, to the sorrow of those who act with him. He is incorrupt, I know; but his passions are quite headstrong', and age, and disappointment, and the sight of other men rising into fame and consequence, sour him. Pray tell me when they are reconciled,—though, as I said, it is nothing to the purpose without a public explanation.

“I am , dear Madam,

“ Yours truly,

66 S. Parr.” Another letter, communicated to me as having been written about this period to Sheridan by a gentleman, then abroad, who was well acquainted with the whole party, contains allusions to the breach which make its introduction here not irrelevant : " I wish very much to have some account of the state of things with

It was well said, (I believe, by Mr. Fox,) that it was lucky both for Burke and Windham that they took the Royal side on the subject of the French Revolution, as they would have got hanged on the other.

[ocr errors]

you that I can rely on. I wish to know how all my old companions and fellow-labourers do; if the club yet exists; if you and Richardson , and Lord John, and Ellis, and Lawrence, and Fitzpatrick, etc. meet and joke, and write as of old. What is become of Becket's, and the supper-parties, the noctes cænæque ? Poor Burgoyne! I am sure you all mourned him as I did, particularly Richardson :

:-pray remember me affectionately to Richardson. It is a shame for you all, and I will say ungrateful in many of you, to have so totally forgotten me, and to leave me in ignorance of every thing public and private in which I am interested. The only creature who writes to me is the Duke of Portland; but in the great and weighty occupations that engross his mind, you can easily conceive that the little details of Society cannot enter into His Grace's correspondence. I have indeed carried on a pretty regular correspondence with young Burke. But that is now at an end. He is so wrapt up in the importance of his present pursuits, that it is too great an honour for me to continue to correspond with him. His father I ever must venerate and ever love; yet I never could admire, even in him, what his son has inherited from him, a tenacity of opinion and a violence of principle, that makes him lose his friendships in his politics , and quarrel with every one who differs from him. Bitterly have I lamented that greatest of these quarrels, and, indeed, the only important one : nor can I conceive it to have been less afflicting to my private feelings than fatal to the party. The worst of it to me was, that I was obliged to condemn the man I loved, and that all the warmth of my affection, and the zeal of my partiality, could not suggest a single excuse to vindicate him, either to the world or to myself, from the crime (for such it was ) of giving such a triumph to the common enemy. He failed, too, in what I most loved him for,—his heart. There it was that Mr. Fox principally rose above him ; nor, amiable as he ever has been , did he ever appear half so amiable as on that trying occasion.”

The topic upon which Sheridan most distinguished himself during this Session was the meditated interference of England in the war between Russia and the Porte,-one of the few measures of Mr. Pilt on which the sense of the nation was opposed to him. So unpopular , indeed, was the Armament proposed to be raised for this object, and so rapidly did the majority of the Minister diminish during the discussion of it, that there appeared for some time a probability that the Whig party would be called into power,-an event which, happening at this critical juncture , might, by altering the policy of England, have changed the destinies of all Europe.

The circumstance to which at present this Russian question owes its chief hold upon English memories is the charge, arising out of it, brought against Mr. Fox of having sent Mr. Adair as his representative to Petersburgh, for the purpose of frustrating the objects for which the King's ministers were then actually negotiating. This accusation, though more than once obliquely intimated during the discussions upon the Russian Armament in 1791, first met the public eye, in any tangible form, among those celebrated Articles of Impeachment against Mr. Fox, which were drawn up by Burke's practised hand in 1793, and found their way surreptitiously into print in 1797. The angry and vindictive tone of this paper was but little calculated to inspire confidence in its statements, and the charge again died away, unsupported and unrefuted, till the appearance of the Memoirs of Mr. Pitt by the Bishop of Winchester; when, upon the authority of documents said to be found among the papers of Mr. Pitt, but not produced, the accusation was revived ,--the Right Reverend biographer calling in aid of his own view of the transaction the charitable opinion of the Turks , who, he complacently assures us, “expressed great surprise that Mr. Fox had not lost his head for such conduct." Notwithstanding, however, this Concordat between the Right Reverend Prelate and the Turks, something more is still wanting to give validity to so serious an accusation. Until the production of the alleged proofs (which Mr. Adair has confidently demanded) shall have put the public in possession of more recondite materials for judging , they must regard as satisfactory and conclusive the refutation of the whole charge, both as regards himself and his illustrious friend, which Mr. Adair has laid before the world; and for the truth of which not only his own high character, but the character of the ministries of both parties, who have since employed him in missions of the first trust and importance, seem to offer the strongest and most convincing pledges.

The Empress of Russia, in testimony of her admiration of the eloquence of Mr. Fox on this occasion, sent an order to England, through her ambassador, for a bust of that statesman, which it was her intention, she said, to place between those of Demosthenes and Cicero. The following is a literal copy of Her Imperial Majesty's note on the subject :

“ Ecrivez au Cte. Worenzof qu'il me fasse avoir en marbre blanc le buste ressemblant de Charles Fox. Je veux le mettre sur ma colonnade entre ceux de Démosthène et de Cicéron.

“Il a délivré par son éloquence sa patrie et la Russie d'une guerre à laquelle il n'y avait ni justice ni raison."

Another subject that engaged much of the attention of Mr. Sheridan this year was his own motion relative to the constitution of the

· This was the third time that his talent for impeaching was exercised, as he acknowledged having drawn up, during the administration of Lord North, seven distinct Articles of Impeachment against that nobleman, which, however, the advice of Lord Rockingham induced him to relinqnish.

· Found among Mr. Sheridan's papers, with these words, in his own handwriting, annexed :—“N. B, Fox would have lost it, if I had not made him look for it, and taken a copy."

« AnteriorContinuar »