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ART. XVI. Two Letters from the Right Honourable George Canning to the Earl Camden, Lord President of the Council. 8vo. pp. 31. London. Cadell and Davies.

[pp. 412-426] [original article in PDF format]

  1. THE publication on which we are about to offer some observations to our readers, is, perhaps, the most extraordinary in its nature and circumstances, that ever issued from the English press. The attention which its novelty and singularity would alone have been sufficient to excite, is heightened by a consideration of the manner in which the transactions recorded in it, bear not only upon the character of many eminent individuals, but upon the general interests of the country.

  2. However much we may regret the causes which have led to the present publication, and however unwilling we should be to see it established as a principle, that persons who have filled high offices in the state, should be bound to adopt this irregular and extra-judicial mode of justification, we cannot but admit, that preceding publications, upon the same subject, of an equally delicate nature, and coming from avowed authority, and the various misrepresentations founded upon them, may fairly be considered as having extorted from the writer of these letters such a vindication of his character. [412]

  3. The event which has given occasion to these publications, is, we believe, unparalleled in the history of modern times: nor is it easy to find expressions of reprehension sufficiently strong to censure an act, which, in addition to its criminality in a moral and religious point of view, was calculated to produce universal disgust throughout this country; to lower the reputation of our government in the eyes of Europe; to afford cause of triumph and exultation to all those who rejoice in the degradation of exalted characters; and to excite the deepest sorrow and disapprobation, in the mind of every man who is anxious to uphold the respect due to high public station.

  4. However impracticable it may have been found, in any age or country, so far to subdue the private feelings of men, by the precepts of religion, and to subject them to the authority of law, as to prevent individuals from arrogating and exercising the right of seeking or offering reparation for private injuries by the mutual hazard of their lives, we cannot proceed to the discussion of any instance of this sort, without protesting generally against a custom, contrary to every ordinance and obligation human and divine.—Such being our general feeling, it is impossible that we should not mark with peculiar reprobation an instance attended with almost every imaginable circumstance of aggravation. The situation of the persons concerned, bound as they were by their characters as legislators, as magistrates, and as confidential servants of a sovereign conspicuous for morality and piety, to afford an example of strict obedience to the law, and to avoid any occasion of public scandal, necessarily exposes their conduct to peculiar blame, and requires more than ordinary justification. It is also a further aggravation, that such justification could not be produced but by the disclosure of circumstances which are most unfit for public scrutiny and discussion. Such was the character of the letter from Lord Castlereagh to Mr. Canning, which has, unfortunately and unaccountably, been made public; and such must of necessity be, in a great measure, the character of any document by which the allegations of that letter are refuted.

  5. The peculiar blame which, as we have said, arises from the high official situation of the parties concerned, is enhanced, in no small degree, by the consideration that the delay of a few weeks, or perhaps of a few days, would have reduced both the parties to that ordinary level of society, in which their meeting would have been,—not blameless indeed, for in no case could it be blameless,—but exempt from that particular scandal which it has brought upon this government in the eyes of Europe.

  6. It must be admitted, however, that the criminality which belongs to the choice of the time, must fall exclusively upon the challenger: unless the challenge had been sent under the impulse of unreflecting [413] resentment upon some sudden provocation, or conveyed in such terms as might have left to the receiver of it an option as to its immediate acceptance or refusal.

  7. Enemies as we are to this sort of ordeal as a test of character, we cannot be so insensible to the prevailing prejudices of mankind, as not to admit that any individual, (not protected by age, or by profession) who should refuse a summons to that ordeal, would subject himself to imputations, which, whether justly attributable or not to such refusal, a man possessing a high and delicate sense of honour could not be expected willingly to incur; and we are obliged to confess, that Lord Castlereagh's letter was not framed in such a tone as to make such an exercise of forbearance, on the part of Mr. Canning, very easy. Still, however, we could have wished that the acceptance of the defiance, if accepted it must be, had been qualified by a proposal for postponing the meeting till both parties should have actually quitted the service of the king. But we must admit, at the same time, that as Mr. Canning could not be master of the secret during the interval, he would have subjected himself to the suspicion, if disclosure had taken place, of having proposed delay with a view to the possibility of prevention.

  8. No apology, however, of this kind, occurs to us on behalf of the appellant. His secret was in his own breast; he was at liberty to hasten or to delay the gratification of his intended revenge; the excuse of having acted under the sudden impulse of passion, cannot be pleaded in a case, in which, as it appears, an interval of twelve days elapsed between the provocation and the demand of satisfaction; and certainly it does not appear that this interval was employed in putting that demand into such a shape as to afford the option of an explanatory answer.

  9. Without pretending to be nicely acquainted with the institutes of a code, against the jurisdiction of which we have protested, we nevertheless must assume that the laws of modern honour bear some conformity to the principles of simple equity; and if this be admitted, a demand so peremptory and unconditional as Lord Castlereagh's, would not be justifiable even in a case where the provocation had been so notorious, and of a nature so little doubtful, that the challenger could not by possibility have been liable to mistake, either as to the degree of the offence, or as to the person responsible for it. We have always understood that even in such cases, according to the laws of honour, there usually is in the language of defiance, a courtesy, which leaves room for explanation or extenuation; and we are confident, that according to the principles of equity, in a case wherein a doubt could exist as to the degree or evidence of the offence, no man has a right to proceed to the last extremity, without either having obtained the most complete [414]  previous ascertainment of the facts, or leaving the most ample room for explanation.

  10. Now, Lord Castlereagh's letter contains a series of assertions as to the circumstances of a delicate and complicated transaction, obviously liable in their nature, either to have been wilfully misrepresented, or to have been innocently misunderstood. The truth of these circumstances could in no other manner be ascertained than by collecting and comparing the testimony of the several parties to the transaction. Of these parties, it was evidently the interest of some to throw the blame, if blame there were, upon the others: and yet it appears, that on testimony, manifestly partial, Lord Castlereagh addressed to Mr. Canning, not such questions as would have obtained from him the confirmation or the refutation of that testimony, but a positive affirmation of the facts thus imperfectly established; an accusation founded upon them; and a challenge.

  11. When we look to one possible result of the duel into which the accused party was thus precipitated, without the option or opportunity of previous vindication, we cannot but be struck with the injustice of a proceeding, which would have left Mr. Canning's posthumous reputation without defence against the recorded charges of his antagonist.

  12. Nor would Mr. Canning's character have suffered alone, if such a letter had remained uncontradicted. If it had been generally received as true, that Mr. Canning had obtained a power which rendered him the arbiter of Lord Castlereagh's official existence, and that he treacherously concealed that power until he found the opportunity of maliciously exercising it; those from whom he derived that power, (including even the highest authority in the state) those who were privy to his possession of it, and those who connived at his imputed abuse of it, must be involved in Lord Castlereagh's accusation, equally with Mr. Canning himself, as parties to his treachery and abettors of his malice.

  13. Fortunately, however, the circumstances under which Lord Castlereagh's letter was published have been such as to admit of its being answered. An opportunity has thus been afforded of vindicating the conduct and character of those exalted persons, who, if Mr. Canning had been liable to blame, must have shared that blame with him,—and of explaining to the world, and perhaps for the first time to Lord Castlereagh, what was the real nature of the transaction which his lordship appears so much to have misapprehended, and who were the real authors of that conduct which he expressly professes to be the object of his resentment.

  14. The result of the singular narrative which has been laid before the public is this. Mr. Canning represented the expediency of a change in the war department, tendering as the alternative his own [415] resignation. Those with whom it rested to decide upon that alternative, decided for a change in the war department. Other persons nearly connected with Lord Castlereagh, admitting the propriety of that decision, proposed a mode of carrying it into execution, calculated, as they thought and as they represented, to reconcile it to Lord Castlereagh's feelings. This mode of executing the decision, and not the decision itself, nor the suggestion which led to it, is what Lord Castlereagh professes to consider as offensive. He admits that the original suggestion is that which he has no right to resent; he contends that the mode of executing it afforded him just ground of offence; and he visits that offence, not on any of its authors, but on the author of the proposal which he had disclaimed the right of resenting.

  15. If Lord Castlereagh had been less candid in admitting that the demand of his removal from office was in itself justifiable, it would not have been difficult to account for his selection of the person who made that demand. It would then have been obvious to vulgar apprehension, that the loss of his office was the substantial injury which he thought worthy to be vindicated in the most signal manner. But precluded as we are from this solution, we confess ourselves unable to render Lord Castlereagh's conduct consistent with his reasoning. Even, according to his own supposition, Mr. Canning was but an accessory, and others the principals, in the offence which Lord Castlereagh revenges. It subsequently appears, from Mr. Canning's statement, that he was not even an accessory to that offence, but either altogether unconscious of it, or when he was aware of it, strenuously protesting against it. Of this, to be sure, it may be said that Lord Castlereagh was not apprised; but if he was not so, it was because he neglected the obvious means of ascertaining the truth, and by his own showing was contented to proceed against Mr. Canning as the accomplice, on the testimony of those whom he knew to be themselves the offenders. That testimony, which has been since contradicted by a detailed and authentic narrative of facts, might, one should imagine, have excited some suspicion from its manifest improbability:—for it is not usual to believe of any man that he has pursued a conduct which is at once atrocious and inconsistent with any assignable motive; and it is utterly inconceivable what motive Mr. Canning could have had for first demanding the dismissal of Lord Castlereagh, and after he had obtained it, for contriving by deceit to retain him in office.

  16. Can it be said, that he retained him with a view of profiting during the interval by his lordship's talents and activity in his department? This motive might indeed be attributed to any of his lordship's friends who might entertain a favourable opinion of his conduct in that department; but it is directly contradicted by the purport of [416] Mr. Canning's representation, and by the fact of his being prepared to quit his own office, if Lord Castlereagh should continue in his. Is it meant to be imputed that he wished to retain Lord Castlereagh in office in the hope of being able to dismiss him at some future time with circumstances of indignity and disgrace? We should be unwilling to believe of any man that he was actuated by a motive so malignant.—But with respect to Mr. Canning, as applied to Lord Castlereagh, we are at a loss to conceive how such a suggestion can be countenanced by those who have made Mr. Canning's conduct in the affair of the writership a matter of charge against him. At that period Mr. Canning certainly had within his reach the complete gratification of his imputed malevolence. From all that we witnessed of the state of the public mind, and from all that we heard of the state of the House of Commons, on that question, it would have required much less effort on the part of any man bent on Lord Castlereagh's political destruction to precipitate an unfavourable sentence, than it did require to obtain for his lordship forgiveness and impunity.

  17. Can it be asserted that he consented to delay and concealment with a view of rendering the accomplishment of his ultimate object more secure?—This supposition is directly at variance with all the other inculpatory charges against Mr. Canning. The charges are, that he had obtained the promise, and that he held the power of Lord Castlereagh's removal in his hands. The promise could not be made more positive, and the power must become precarious by delay. It is charged that he permitted Lord Castlereagh to conduct the expedition to the Scheldt. It will hardly be contended, by the most extravagant spirit of accusation, that he did so with the express hope of seeing that expedition fail, and thereby procuring additional discredit to Lord Castlereagh, at the expense of involving in that disgrace, an administration, of which he was himself a member. It is not intelligible that he should study thus to link his own fate with that of the man whom he wished to remove;—and on the other supposition of the success of the expedition, it is plain, that, by consenting to delay, he had afforded to his lordship the means of obtaining all the popularity which fortune could bestow,—and thereby of fortifying himself against any attempt to execute the project of his removal.

  18. In truth, it is so perfectly clear, that delay and concealment could have no other effect than to render doubtful and difficult the execution of the promise which Mr. Canning is stated to have obtained, and ultimately to defeat (as in fact they appear to have defeated) any plan of arrangement founded on Lord Castlereagh's change of office—that, upon an impartial review of all the circumstances of the case, giving Mr. Canning no other credit than for [417] common sense, and for consistency in the pursuit of his own object, we find it impossible to attribute his forbearance, in not pressing for the immediate execution of whatever arrangement was to be executed, to any other cause than those which are plainly and forcibly described in his narrative, his acquiescence in the wishes of the Duke of Portland, and in the solicitations of Lord Castlereagh's friends.

  19. If there be any part of this controversy, in which we could be tempted to forget that delicacy and reserve which ought to temper every observation upon transactions which it is impossible to touch with too tender a hand, it would be that part of Lord Castlereagh's letter in which he reproaches Mr. Canning with having allowed to those whom his lordship terms his 'supposed friends,' an 'authority which he must have known them not to possess,' in an affair deeply affecting Lord Castlereagh's interests and honour. If by this charge no more is meant than that Mr. Canning must have known that Lord Camden was not authorised by Lord Castlereagh to conceal from him this particular transaction, it would undoubtedly be difficult to conceive a proposition less liable to be disputed:—how could Lord Castlereagh give such an authority without a previous knowledge of the very transaction which was thus to be concealed from him? If it be intended to assert that neither Lord Camden, nor all Lord Castlereagh's friends together, could so far answer for Lord Castlereagh's consent to any arrangement, as to make their engagement binding upon him—that also is an indisputable proposition. But if it be intended to deny that Lord Castlereagh's friends, and especially one so near to him as Lord Camden, could be rationally supposed to be better judges of his lordship's interests and his feelings than any indifferent persons, it must also be intended to assert, that in Lord Castlereagh's peculiar instance, friendship is neither entitled to assume those functions, nor to perform those duties, nor to receive that deference, which are admitted in the case of ordinary men.

  20. But even if officious kindness did transgress the limits which were intended to be prescribed to it, if that which assumed the appearance of provident and anxious friendship, was in fact a meddling zeal, the fault was surely in those who pretended a character to which they had no right, rather than in him who was deceived by that pretension. If this be the real state of the case, true it is that there was a system of delusion practised; but it was practised, not by Mr. Canning,—but upon him;—and was one of which he, rather than Lord Castlereagh, had a right to complain.

  21. It is clear, indeed, from Lord Castlereagh's letter, that through this system of delusion practised equally upon Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Canning, Lord Castlereagh was placed in the predicament of retaining during three months an office which, had he been apprised of what [418] his friends were doing on his behalf, he would indignantly have spurned at—and that he thus unwittingly incurred the imputation of clinging to a post of consideration and emolument in a manner which was inconsistent with his conscious feelings of honour and delicacy. For ourselves we are perfectly convinced that Lord Castlereagh never did authorise, nor directly or indirectly countenance, any of the different arrangements proposed, with whatever motives, by his friends: and we admit that acting as he did under the impression that he had been dishonoured by the apparent implication that he had assented to them, it was perfectly natural and justifiable that he should express deep resentment, and seek reparation (we do not mean in the technical sense of the word) at the hands of those who had dishonoured him. But this crime was not transferable. It was the crime of Lord Castlereagh's friends. He had therefore a right to reparation at their hands; but he had no such claim upon the person who was, equally with himself, the dupe of their mistaken policy.

  22. It is to be mentioned as an instance of fairness and candour in Lord Castlereagh, that, even under the irritation in which his letter was evidently written, the extent of the crime which he imputes to Mr. Canning, is that of having known of the concealment practised towards him, not of having authorised, or contributed to it: that he admits the fact of Mr. Canning's having urged the disclosure to his lordship, and that even while he supposes him not to have urged it with sufficient energy, he nowhere suggests that which has since been so vehemently contended for by his lordship's advocates,—that Mr. Canning was himself the proper person to make that disclosure. Among all the charges to which the controversy has given birth, this has uniformly appeared to us to be the most senseless. Undoubtedly, if Mr. Canning could have foreseen the difficulties and delays, which would, in the first place, retard the decision, and, after the decision had been taken, farther retard the execution of it, we can well believe that it would have been as much the disposition of Mr. Canning, as it would obviously have been for his case and his interest, to have brought the discussion at once to a termination by peremptorily resigning his office. But even, in that case, we cannot conceive that it would have been an act of duty either to Lord Castlereagh, to his colleagues, or to his Sovereign, to accompany his retirement with a declaration of personal hostility to Lord Castlereagh. That any direct declaration of the cause of his retirement, to Lord Castlereagh, could have produced any other effect than that of a personal difference between them, it is preposterous to imagine. No man can suppose that Lord Castlereagh, or indeed any other individual, so called upon, would have sacrificed himself in order to preserve Mr. Canning to the government. [419]

  23. But when the transaction had once taken the course which it actually took; when the Duke of Portland, with the authority of the King, had decided upon a change in the War Department, on the express condition that it should be so conducted as not to hurt Lord Castlereagh's feelings, and had engaged on behalf of the persons who must be supposed to be best acquainted with those feelings, that they should reconcile Lord Castlereagh to the change,—wearied and harassed as Mr. Canning must have been, and as he manifestly appears to have been, by the repeated adjournments and variations of the plans proposed to him, we confess that we do not see a single point of time in the course of these protracted discussions, in which Mr. Canning could have taken out of the hands of Lord Castlereagh's friends the communication for which they had engaged, without subjecting himself to imputations infinitely more injurious than those to which his confidence in that engagement has exposed him. The same persons who now make him responsible for the dilatoriness of Lord Castlereagh's friends, and for the injury thence supposed to result to Lord Castlereagh's honour, would, in all probability, then have been foremost in accusing him of mingling individual enmity with pretended zeal for the public service. They would have argued that, for the attainment of every public object which he affected to have in view, he had obtained the most satisfactory security; that all that was asked of him in return was, that he should suffer that object to be effected in the mode least inconvenient and embarrassing to his colleagues in general, and least grating to that one of them who was principally concerned; but that to him the public object was comparatively secondary, and that the gratification of announcing a personal triumph outweighed every consideration of delicacy and forbearance towards individuals, and of regard for the government itself. The charges of impatience, rashness, and precipitancy, would then have been urged with perhaps more violence, and, we confess, with greater plausibility than those of purposed secrecy, and persevering deceit have been in the present instance.

  24. In no case, therefore, does it appear to us, that Mr. Canning could have made a direct communication to Lord Castlereagh to any beneficial purpose, or without incurring just blame. If he had himself actually resigned rather than wait the decision upon the alternative which he had submitted to the Duke of Portland, his personal communication to Lord Castlereagh of the cause of his resignation might have been considered as a gratuitous and unnecessary insult. If (as it appears to be the fact) he was led on from day to day by the constantly renewed expectation of an arrangement which should satisfy his views of public service, without hurting Lord Castlereagh's feelings, it is evident that he could [420] not have taken a more effectual step to defeat both those objects than by substituting himself in the place of Lord Castlereagh's friends, as the channel of communication. That Mr. Canning could intend, or could expect that his proposal should remain concealed from Lord Castlereagh, is a supposition utterly inconsistent, not only with every part of his conduct, but with the nature of things. Such a notion can only be entertained by those who are prepared to imagine that Mr. Canning could not only enjoin concealment to the Duke of Portland, in a matter deeply affecting the stability of his administration, but that he could command the silence of the friends most interested in Lord Castlereagh's welfare, and impose an obligation of secrecy on the King himself.

  25. We have been led into a more minute discussion of the causes of the publication before us, than we had ourselves intended, or than any question between two individuals would have warranted. But the uncommon interest which was excited by the event itself at the time when it took place; the influence which that event had, or has been supposed to have, on subsequent public occurrences; and, above all, the important consideration, that the characters of public men are, in this country, and particularly at this time, matters of national concern, must be our apology with our readers for the length to which our remarks have been extended. We have, as will be perceived, cautiously abstained from giving any opinion upon the merits of the original and fundamental cause of the whole of these proceedings, the demand on the part of Mr. Canning for a change in Lord Castlereagh's department. It is no part of our purpose to pronounce any opinion upon his lordship's services to his country, or upon his mode of executing the duties of his particular office.

  26. We regret that the nature of the discussion has been such as unavoidably to force upon us so frequently the names of the individuals concerned—a liberty, however, which we shall be found to have used, as without disfavour, so, we trust, without offence, to either party. We confess, indeed, that, even abstractedly from any considerations of individual good-will or preference, we should have contemplated with satisfaction the effects of the publication now before us, from the singular and striking instance which it has exhibited of the dissipation of accumulated calumnies and errors by the influence of simple truth. We hardly recollect an example of a transaction in which, as well from the complicated and delicate nature of the transaction itself, as from the efforts studiously made to perplex and mislead men's judgments, so great a degree of uncertainty and obscurity has prevailed as upon this occasion: and we confess that it had struck us, that those persons, whoever they might be, who employed themselves in creating and [421] thickening this confusion, worked with the greater confidence and alacrity, from a persuasion that the means of distinct explanation were out of the reach of the person accused, or that the use of them would not be allowed to him. It was obvious, that the partial representations of secret political discussions and arrangements, when coloured highly to the disadvantage of any individual, could only be corrected and placed in their true light, by a more complete disclosure; and we were apprehensive that the mischief and inconvenience of making that disclosure might be so great, as to render it his duty to submit to continued misconstruction rather than to purchase his vindication at that price.

  27. The facts detailed in the publication now before us, are such as no man could have thought himself at liberty to disclose without special permission. That such a permission should have been asked, and have been obtained, is a circumstance which of itself establishes the character of the narrative, and evinces, at the same time, that clear and conscious integrity, which must have dictated both the request and the concession.

  28. It remains for us to consider the substance of the narrative independently of the personal question, by which it was rendered necessary.

  29. The narrative exhibits the progress and ultimate failure of an endeavour, on the part of a member of the cabinet, to effect a change in the constitution of the administration, with a view to what he considered the better carrying on of the public service.

  30. The character of this endeavour would depend upon the two considerations, whether the change proposed was actually beneficial, and whether it was proposed in the sincere belief of its being so. —Of the necessity or expediency of that change, we have already stated, that it is not our province or intention to express any opinion: but of the sincerity of the conviction under which it was proposed we can entertain no doubt, when we perceive that the minister who proposed it, staked his own official situation upon the issue of his proposal. In this proceeding we confess we see nothing to reprehend; putting out of the question, as we studiously do, the merit or demerit of the proposed change. We cannot but consider the readiness of a minister to lay down his office, whenever office cannot be held upon terms consistent with his deliberate opinion of what is beneficial for the country, as one of the most essential qualifications of a man to whom high station can safely be confided.

  31. There probably never will be wanting a due supply of men who will be ready to hold high official situations, on whatever terms, and with whatever colleagues. And we confess that the disposition which has lately been shown to represent the surrender of office, in this instance, and the refusal to accept it in others, as the [422] effect of inordinate ambition, of disloyalty to the Sovereign, or of indifference to the situation of the country, has appeared to us a most unfavourable symptom of the political temper of the times. The establishment of such a doctrine would confound all public principle, and afford a cover and pretext for every species of selfish and interested policy.

  32. It is not to be denied, that men may resign, or may refuse office, on motives just as sordid as others may seek, or may accept it. When such an instance is detected, let it be marked with unsparing reprobation. But we must not, in order to bring particular instances within the reach of a sweeping censure, consent to invert the ordinary rules of judgment, and presume against every mode of conduct by which disinterestedness is ordinarily shown.

  33. We dwell with the more particularity on this topic, because the charge which has perhaps done the greatest mischief to Mr. Canning, in the estimation of the public, and that which we think his narrative most completely refutes, (though not professedly directed to that object,) is that of having resigned, in fact, upon some squabble for power and pre-eminence, arising solely from the secession of the Duke of Portland. Whatever might have been the opinions which Mr. Canning entertained as to the most expedient mode of arranging the administration after the Duke of Portland's secession, it would have been his duty, whenever called upon by his sovereign, humbly, but distinctly to avow them; whether as a minister remaining in office, or, (as he describes himself at that period,) holding his office only till his successor should be named. And if, as has been asserted, that opinion was, that the office of prime minister (an office unknown to the letter, though known to the practice, of the constitution) should be held by a member of the House of Commons, we might perhaps be at liberty to question the soundness of that opinion; but we could not do so without expressing, at the same time, our regret, that, if unsound, it has been thought right to act upon it.

  34. But we should hold it to be the height of injustice to attribute Mr.Canning's resignation to any cause originating at the time of the Duke of Portland's secession from the government, when we perceive that there has scarcely elapsed a single month from the period at which he first represented to the Duke of Portland the expediency of a change in the administration, in the course of which his resignation has not been in the hands of the prime minister, or laid at the feet of the King. As at none of these periods a doubt could be raised as to the motives which actuated his conduct, we should think it most unfair to suppose the exclusive operation of a new motive at the period when his resignation actually took place.

  35. We deeply lament, and indeed consider as by far the most important, [423] as well as unfortunate, part of the events which we have been examining, those scenes of confusion and distraction in the government which followed the resignation of the Duke of Portland and Mr. Canning. That these consequences arise not from either of those resignations singly, but from the coincidence, whether accidental or contrived, of the two, appears to us sufficiently evident.

  36. It is evident also, that this coincidence was neither the contrivance, nor in the contemplation of Mr. Canning, who in the successive months of April, May, June, and July, had repeatedly tendered his resignation, when the retirement of the Duke of Portland does not appear to have been in question.

  37. At the same time it appears perfectly natural, that, having made up his mind to retire, unless the change, of which he had pointed out the expediency, should be effected, he should not consent to remain in office after having learned at once that no steps had been taken for that purpose; and that the minister, whose word was pledged to him for it, was determined to withdraw from the government. Of the sincerity, as well as the full authority with which that word had been pledged, there can be no doubt; but we think a doubt might naturally arise, whether, after the Duke of Portland was withdrawn, the same influence or management which had retarded, from time to time, the execution of the intended arrangement, would not be successfully exerted to defeat it altogether.

  38. Whether Mr. Canning did wisely for himself, and beneficially for the country, in staking his own tenure in office on the execution of this arrangement, is a question which we purposely abstain from examining; but we are decidedly of opinion, that when he had once taken that step, he could not have receded, without incurring the imputation of having threatened that which he was not prepared to execute, and thereby impaired that consistency of character, without which no public man can be useful to his country.

  39. The retirement of Mr. Canning, however, though a severe blow to the government, does not appear to us to have been a sufficient cause for the total disorganization of the ministry, or for that dejection and despair to which they seem immediately to have betaken themselves.

  40. If they had thus lost one secretary of state, at least there was an end of the question, by which they had been in danger of losing the services of another; and it does strike us as the most unaccountable circumstance in the whole of these strange transactions, that the silence so long persevered in towards Lord Castlereagh should now have been abruptly and unnecessarily broken.

  41. Certainly, it is to be lamented that the silence was not broken before, and while the Duke of Portland remained at the head of government. Had the proposed change in the war department been [424] fairly communicated to Lord Castlereagh, we have no reason to believe that he would have refused his acquiescence in it. Such a change was by no means without precedent; and though it might possibly have been unpleasing to his lordship to exchange an active and laborious office for a situation of greater dignity with less responsibility, this surely could not have been disparaging to his character.

  42. Had the Duke of Portland been enabled to carry into execution the arrangement which (by whomsoever suggested) had certainly been proposed on his part, and accepted by Mr. Canning with equal sincerity, his Grace would probably have had no motive for withdrawing, precisely at the moment when he did withdraw it, the sanction of his name from the list of an administration, of which that name was the principal bond of union.

  43. With respect to Mr. Canning, it is evident that, having once acquiesced in any of these arrangements, he had contracted an engagement to remain in his office, from which he could be absolved by nothing but a breach of the faith which had been pledged to him.

  44. But, even when this triple loss of the Duke of Portland, of Mr. Canning and Lord Castlereagh, had been incurred, we cannot admit that the necessity of the government was such as to justify their begging aid at the hands of their avowed political opponents.

  45. And even if such a necessity existed, we are still more clearly of opinion that the mode in which that overture was made, was not calculated to answer any good purpose.

  46. It is usual to ground a proposal for a coalition of opposite political parties on some intelligible basis; to assign some motive for hope that overtures of unsolicited cordiality will be met by similar feelings; to offer some pledge of sincerity, and to point out some general coincidence of principles and views which shall exculpate the two parties, in the judgment of their respective friends, from the charge of inconsistency. The whole public, therefore, seem to have anticipated the result of the sudden overture to Lord Grey and Lord Grenville. The advocates of opposition learned with derision, and the friends of government with shame and humiliation, that the flag of truce had returned with a warlike manifesto.

  47. Of the two noble lords whom it was attempted to engage in this abortive negociation, we have never been the panegyrists. Our political opinions are, on many important points, directly at variance with theirs: and we cannot conceal from ourselves, nor do we wish to deny, that our feelings towards them and their party are such as a difference of political opinion usually excites. But we cannot therefore countenance, against two men of distinguished rank, of cultivated talents, and of untarnished character, the idle charge of having, by their refusal of the proposed coalition, evinced a disregard for the [425] essential interests of the country. The overture made to them amounted, substantially, to this, that certain members of the cabinet having resigned their seats, the remainder were desirous of retaining theirs, and thought that the assistance of their lordships might greatly facilitate this object. But their lordships being aware that there existed between them and the persons making the overture, wider differences of political opinion than perhaps between any other public men in the country, could not easily give credit to the sincerity of such a proposal, nor fail to remark, that the negociators, whilst they bore the olive-branch in one hand, carried the apple of discord in the other. They therefore preferred the distant hope of power, in company with their own friends, to its immediate possession on a more precarious and uncertain tenure. They might reasonably suspect that the object of such a proposal was rather to make a case than to make a government.

  48. We admire in theory, as much as any persons can do, the project so often advanced, but so seldom realised, of bringing men of all parties and principles to co-operate sincerely in the service of the state. We agree, that to attain that object, or to pursue it with a reasonable prospect of success, no sacrifices of individual interest ought to be spared; and we admit that even a considerable compromise of political opinion may be wisely and honestly made. We therefore do not blame the principle of such an overture. But as from the mode of conducting it, it was evidently hopeless from the beginning, we confess we lament that it was made. In the necessity which (we are afraid) exists, of entrusting the government of the country to one or other of the existing political parties, we confess our strong predilection for that which professes to act on the principles of Mr. Pitt, and we therefore could not but see with regret, that party gratuitously discredited, by a fruitless and what might be represented as an insincere negociation. To make a case, is not an object of manly policy, and we fear that more has been lost to the general efficiency of the Pitt party by the confession of weakness, than can have been gained to the administration by the complaint that assistance has been refused to them. We shall be happy to find ourselves mistaken.

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September 2006

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