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a sacrifice of his friendship, for the sake of catching some momentary popu larity? If the fact were such, even greatly as he should continue to admire the Honourable Gentleman's talents, he must tell him that his argument was chiefly an argument ad invidiam, and all the applause for which he could hope from clubs was scarcely worth the sacrifice which he had chosen to make for so insignificant an acquisition."
I have given the circumstances of this Debate somewhat in detail, not only on account of its own interest and of the share which Mr. Sheridan took in it, but from its being the first scene of that great political schism, which in the following year assumed a still more serious aspect, and by which the policy of Mr. Pitt at length acquired a predominance, not speedily to be forgotten in the annals of this country.
Mr. Sheridan was much blamed for the unseasonable stimulant, which, it was thought, his speech on this occasion had administered to the temper of Burke; nor can it be doubted that he had thereby, in some degree, accelerated the public burst of that feeling which had so long been treasured up against himself. But, whether hastened or delayed, such a breach was ultimately inevitable; the divergence of the parties once begun, it was in vain to think of restoring their parallelism. That some of their friends, however, had more sanguine hopes appears from an effort which was made, within two days after the occurrence of this remarkable scene, to effect a reconciliation between Burke and Sheridan. The interview that took place on that occasion is thus described by Mr. Dennis O'Brien, one of the persons chiefly instru mental in the arrangements for it :
"It appeared to the author of this pamphlet that the difference between these two great men would be a great evil to the country and to their own party. Full of this persuasion he brought them both together the second night after the original contest in the House of Commons; and carried them to Burlington House to Mr. Fox and the Duke of Portland, according to a previous arrangement. This interview, which can never be forgotten by those who were present, lasted from ten o'clock at night until three in the morning, and afforded a very remarkable display of the extraordinary talents of the parties."
It will easily be believed that to the success of this con
Entitled "Utrum Horum."
ciliatory effort the temper on one side would be a greater obstacle than even the hate on both. Mr. Sheridan, as if anxious to repel from himself the suspicion of having contributed to its failure, took an opportunity, during his speech upon the Tobacco Act, in the month of April following, to express himself in the most friendly terms of Mr. Burke, as "( one, for whose talents and personal virtue he had the highest esteem, veneration, and regard, and with whom he might be allowed to differ in opinion upon the subject of France, persuaded, as he was, that they never could differ in principle." Of this and some other compliments of a similar nature, Mr. Burke did not deign to take the slightest notice -partly, from an implacable feeling towards him who offered them, and partly, perhaps, from a suspicion that they were intended rather for the ears of the public than his own, and that, while this tendency to conciliation appeared on the surface, the under-current of feeling and influence set all the other way.
Among the measures which engaged the attention of Mr. Sheridan during this session, the principal was a motion of his own for the repeal of the Excise Duties on Tobacco, which appears to have called forth a more than usual portion of his oratory,-his speeches on the subject occupying nearly forty pages. It is upon topics of this unpromising kind, and from the very effort, perhaps, to dignify and enliven them, that the peculiar characteristics of an orator are sometimes most racily brought out. To the Cyder Tax we are indebted for one of the grandest bursts of the constitutional spirit and eloquence of Lord Chatham; and, in these orations of Sheridan upon Tobacco, we find examples of the two extreme varieties of his dramatic talent-both of the broad, natural humour of his farce, and the pointed, artificial wit of his comedy. For instance, in representing, as one of the abuses that might arise from the discretionary power of remitting fines to manufacturers, the danger that those only should feel the indulgence, who were found to be supporters of the existing administration,* he says:—
A case of this kind formed the subject of a spirited Speech of Mr. Windham, in 1792. See his Speeches, vol. i. p. 207.
"Were a man, whose stock had increased or diminished beyond the standard table in the Act, to attend the Commissioners and assure them that the weather alone had caused the increase or decrease of the article, and that no fraud whatever had been used on the occasion, the Commissioners might say to him, Sir, you need not give yourself so much trouble to prove your innocence ;—we see honesty in your orange cape.' But should a person of quite a different side in politics attend for the same purpose, the Commissioners might say, Sir, you are not to be believed; we see fraud in your blue and buff, and it is impossible that you should not be a smuggler."
Again, in stating the case between the manufacturers and the Minister, the former of whom objected to the Bill altogether, while the latter determined to preserve its principle and only alter its form, he says:
"The manufacturers ask the Right Honourable Gentleman, if he will consent to give up the principle? The Right Honourable Gentleman answers, No; the principle must not be abandoned, but do you inform me how I shall alter the Bill.' This the manufacturers refused; and they wisely refused it in his opinion; for, what was it but the Minister's saying,
I have a yoke to put about your necks,-do you help me in fitting it on -only assist me with your knowledge of the subject, and I'll fit you with the prettiest pair of fetters that ever were seen in the world.'"
As a specimen of his quaint and far-sought witticisms, the following passage in the same speech may vie with Trip's "Post-Obit on the blue and silver, &c."-Having described the effects of the weather in increasing or decreasing the weight of the stock, beyond the exact standard established in the Act, he adds,
"The Commissioners, before they could, in justice, levy such fines, ought to ascertain that the weather is always in that precise state of heat or cold which the Act supposed it would be. They ought to make Christmas give security for frost, take a bond for hot weather from August, and oblige damps and fogs to take out permits."
It was in one of these speeches on the Tobacco Act, that he adverted with considerable warmth to a rumour, which, he complained, had been maliciously circulated, of a misunderstanding between himself and the Duke of Portland, in consequence (as the Report expresses it) of "a certain opposi
tion affirmed to have been made by this Noble Duke, to some views or expectations which he (Mr. Sheridan) was said to have entertained." After declaring that "there was not in these rumours one grain of truth," he added that
"He would not venture to state to the Committee the opinion that the Noble Duke was pleased to entertain of him, lest he should be accused of vanity in publishing what he might deem highly flattering. All that he would assert on this occasion was, that if he had it in his power to make the man whose good opinion he should most highly prize think flatteringly of him, he would have that man think of him precisely as the Noble Duke did, and then his wish on that subject would be most amply gratified."
As it is certain, that the feelings which Burke entertained towards Sheridan were in some degree shared by all those who afterwards seceded from the party, this boast of the high opinion of the Duke of Portland must be taken with what, in Heraldry, is called Abatement-that is, a certain degree of diminution of the emblazonry.
Among the papers of Mr. Sheridan, I find a letter addressed to him this year by one of his most distinguished friends, relative to the motions that had lately been brought forward for the relief of the Dissenters. The writer, whose alarm for the interest of the Church had somewhat disturbed his sense of liberality and justice, endeavours to impress upon Mr. Sheridan, and through him upon Mr. Fox, how undeserving the Dissenters were, as a political body, of the recent exertions on their behalf, and how ungratefully they had more than once requited the services which the Whigs had rendered them. For this latter charge there was but too much foundation in truth, however ungenerous might be the deduction which the writer would draw from it. It no doubt, natural that large bodies of men, impatiently suffering under the ban of disqualification, should avail themselves, without much regard to persons or party, of every aid they can muster for their cause, and should (to use the words of an old Earl of Pembroke) “lean on both sides of the stairs to get up." But, it is equally natural that the occasional desertion and ingratitude, of which, in pursuit of this selfish policy, they are but too likely to be guilty towards
their best friends, should, if not wholly indispose the latter to their service, at least considerably moderate their zeal in a cause, where all parties alike seem to be considered but as instruments, and where neither personal predilections nor principle are regarded in the choice of means. To the great credit, however, of the Whig party, it must be said, that, though often set aside and even disowned by their clients, they have rarely suffered their high duty, as advocates, to be relaxed or interrupted by such momentary suspensions of confidence. In this respect, the cause of Ireland has more than once been a trial of their constancy. Even Lord North was able, by his reluctant concessions, to supersede them for a time in the favour of my too believing countrymen,-whose despair of finding justice at any hands has often led them thus to carry their confidence to market, and to place it in the hands of the first plausible bidder. The many vicissitudes of popularity which their own illustrious Whig, Grattan, had to encounter, would have wearied out the ardour of any less magnanimous champion. But high minds are as little affected by such unworthy returns for services, as the sun is by those fogs which the earth throws up between herself and his light.
With respect to the Dissenters, they had deserted Mr. Fox in his great struggle with the Crown in 1784, and laid their interest and hopes at the feet of the new idol of the day. Notwithstanding this, we find him, in the year 1787, warmly maintaining, and in opposition to his rival, the cause of the very persons who had contributed to make that rival triumphant, and showing just so much remembrance of their late defection as served to render this sacrifice of personal to public feelings more signal. "He was determined," he said, "to let them know that, though they could upon some occasions lose sight of their principles of liberty, he would not upon any occasion lose sight of his priciples of toleration." In the present session, too, notwithstanding that the great organ of the Dissenters, Dr. Price, had lately in a sermon, published with a view to the Test, made a pointed attack on the morals of Mr. Fox and his friends, this generous advocate