« EdellinenJatka »
“ fortunes.” Three days afterwards it was carried that the Directors should forthwith lay before the House an account of all their proceedings *, and a Bill was introduced against “the infamous practice of Stock“Jobbing."
It was amidst this general storm that Walpole, on the 21st of December, brought forward his remedy. He had first desired the House to decide whether or not the public contracts with the South Sea Company should be preserved inviolate. This being carried by a large majority, Walpole then unfolded his scheme ; it was in substance to engraft nine millions of Stock into the Bank of England. and the same sum into the East India Company, on certain conditions, leaving twenty millions to the South Sea. This measure, framed with great financial ability, and supported by consummate powers of debate, met with no small opposition, especially from all the three Companies, not one of which would gain by it; and though it passed both Houses, it was never carried into execution, being only permissive, and not found necessary, in consequence, as will be seen hereafter, of another law.
A short Christmas recess had no effect in allaying animosities. Immediately afterwards, a Bill was brought in by Sir Joseph Jekyll, restraining the South Sea Directors from going out of the kingdom, obliging them to deliver upon oath the strict value of their estates, and offering rewards to discoverers or informers against them.t The Directors petitioned to be heard by counsel in their defence, the common right, they said, of British subjects
as if a South Sea man had been still entitled to justice! Their request was rejected, and the Bill was hurried through both Houses. A Secret Committee of Inquiry was next appointed by the Commons, consisting chiefly of the most vehement opponents of the South Sea
* “Governor Pitt moved that the Directors should attend on “ Thursday with their Myrmidons, the secretary, the treasurer, and, it they pleased, with their great Scanderbeg: who he meant by that “I know not ; but the epithet denotes somebody of consideration !” Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, December 10. 1720. Compare with this letter the Parl. Hist. vol. vii. p. 680.
+ This last clause is mentioned by Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Jan. 19. 1721. VOL. II.
such as Molesworth, Jekyll, and Brodrick, the latter of whom they selected for their Chairman.
This Committee proceeded to examine Mr. Knight, the cashier of the Company, and the agent of its most secret transactions. But this person, dreading the consequences, soon after his first examination escaped to France, connived at, as was suspected, by some persons in power, and carrying with him the register of the Company. His escape was reported to the House on the 23d of January, when a strange scene of violence ensued. The Commons ordered the doors to be locked, and the keys to be laid on the table. General Ross then stated that the Committee, of which he was a member, had “ discovered a train of the deepest villany and fraud that “ hell ever contrived to ruin a nation.” No proof beyond this vague assertion was required: four of the Directors, members of Parliament, were immediately expelled the House, taken into custody, and their papers
seized.* Meanwhile the Lords had been examining other Directors at their Bar, and on the 24th they also ordered five to be taken into custody. Some of the answers indicated that large sums in South Sea Stock had been given to procure the passing of the Act last year; upon which Lord Stanhope immediately rose, and expressing his indignation at such practices, moved a Resolution, that any transfer of Stock, without a valuable consideration, for the use of any person in the administration, during the pendency of the South Sea Act, was a notorious and dangerous corruption. He was seconded by Lord Townshend, and the Resolution passed unanimously. On the 4th of February, the House, continuing their examinations, had before them Sir John Blunt, who, however, refused to answer, on the ground that he had already given his evidence before the Secret Committee of the Commons. How to proceed in this matter was a serious difficulty; and a debate which arose upon it soon branched into more general topics. A vehement philippic was delivered by the Duke of Wharton, the son of the late Minister, who had recently come of age, and
* “ Several of the Directors were so far innocent as to be found poorer at the breaking up of the scheme than when it began.' (Macpherson's Hist. of Commerce, vol. iii. p. 112.)
who even previously had received the honour of a dukedom, his father having died while the patent was in preparation. This young nobleman was endowed with splendid talents, but had early plunged into the wildest excesses, and professed the most godless doctrines; and his declamations against the “ villanous scheme," or on public virtue, came a little strangely from the President of the Hell-fire Club.* On this occasion he launched forth into a general attack upon the whole conduct of administration, and more than hinted that Stanhope had fomented the late dissension between the King and Prince of Wales. Look to his parallel, he cried, in Sejanus, that evil and too powerful Minister, who made a division in the Imperial family, and rendered the reign of Tiberius hateful to the Romans! Stanhope rose with much passion to reply ; he vindicated his own conduct and that of the administration; and in conclusion, after complimenting the Noble Duke on his studies in Roman history, hoped that he had not overlooked the example of the patriot Brutus, who, in order to assert the liberty of Rome, and free it from tyrants, sacrificed his own degenerate and worthless son! But his transport of anger, however just, was fatal to his health ; the blood rushed to his head; he was supported home much indisposed, and relieved by cupping, but next day was seized with a suffocation, and instantly expired. Thus died James Earl Stanhope, leaving behind him at that time few equals in integrity, and none in knowledge of foreign affairs. His disinterestedness in money matters was so well known, that in the South Sea transactions, and even during the highest popular fury, he stood clear, not merely of any charge, but even of any suspicion with the public; and the King, on learning the news, was so much affected, that he retired for several hours alone into his closet to lament his loss.
In the room of Stanhope, Townshend became Secretary
* On the 29th of April, this year, the King issued a Proclamation against the Hell-fire Club. Wharton hereupon played a strange farce : he went to the House of Lords, declared that he was not, as was thought, a “patron of blasphemy,” and pulling out an old family Bible, proceeded with a sanctified air to quote several texts ! But he soon reverted to his former courses.
of State ; while Aislabie, finding it impossible to stem the popular torrent, resigned his office, which was conferred upon Walpole. But this resignation was far from contenting the public, or abating their eagerness for the Report of the Secret Committee. That Committee certainly displayed no want of activity: it sat every day from 9 in the morning till 11 at night, being resolved, as the Chairman expresses it, “ to show how the horse was 6 curried !”* At length, on the 16th of February, their first Report was presented to the House. It appeared that they had experienced obstacles from the escape of Knight, from the taking away of some books, and from the defacing of others; but that the cross-examination of the Directors and Accountants had supplied the deficiency. A scene of infamous corruption was then disclosed. It was found that last year above half a million of fictitious South Sea Stock had been created, in order that the profit upon that sum might be disposed of by the Directors to facilitate the passing of the Bill. The Duchess of Kendal had 10,0001. ; another of the King's favourites, Madame de Platen, with laudable impartiality, had the same sum ; nor were the two nieces of the latter forgotten. Against these ladies no steps were, nor, perhaps, could be taken. But those persons in the administration accused of similar peculation were Secretary Craggs, his father the Postmaster-General, Mr. Charles Stanhope, Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Aislabie, and the Earl of Sunderland; and the Report added the various evidence in the case of each.
On the very day when this Report was reading in the Commons died one of the statesmen accused in it, James Craggs, Secretary of State. His illness was the smallpox, which was then very prevalent t, joined no doubt to anxiety of mind. Whatever may have been his conduct in the South Sea affairs (for his death arrested the inquiry), he undoubtedly combined great talents for business, with a love of learning and of literature; and his name, were it even to drop from the page of History,
* Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Feb. 4. 1721.
+ See a list of its victims in that month in Boyer's Political State, vol. xxi. v. 196, &c.
would live enshrined for ever in the verse of Pope. But the fate of his father was still more lamentable ; – a few weeks afterwards, when the accusation was pressing upon him, he swallowed poison and expired. If we may trust Horace Walpole, Sir Robert subsequently declared that the unhappy man had hinted his intention to him.*
The other cases were prosecuted by the House with proper vigour, and singly, as standing each on separate grounds. The first that came on was that of Mr. Charles Stanhope, Secretary to the Treasury; he was a kinsman of the late Minister, and brother of Colonel William Stanhope, afterwards Lord Harrington. It was proved that a large sum of stock had been entered for him in the bank of Sir George Caswall and Co., and that his name had been partly erased from their books, and altered to STANGAPE. On his behalf it was contended that the transfer had been made without his knowledge or consent; but I am bound to acknowledge that I' think the change of his name in the ledger a most suspicious circumstance. On a division he was declared innocent, but only by a majority of three. On this occasion, according to Mr. Brodrick, “Lord Stanhope, son to Lord Chester"field, carried off a pretty many, by mentioning in the strongest terms the memory of the late Lord of that name.
This respect to a living Minister would not surprise us, but it surely was no small testimony to the merits of a dead one.
The next case was Aislabie's. It was so flagrant, that scarce any member ventured to defend him, and none to divide the House : he was unanimously expelled and sent to the Tower, and afterwards great part of his property seized. Many had been the murmurs at Stanhope's acquittal; and so great was the rejoicing on Aislabie's conviction, that there were bonfires that night in the City.
Lord Sunderland now remained. He was charged with having received, through Knight, 50,0001. stock, without payment; and the public outcry against him was fierce and loud, but, as I believe, unfounded. The charge
* Compare Walpole's Reminiscences (Works, vol. iv. p. 288. ed. 1798), and Brodrick's Letter to Lord Midleton, March 16. 1721.
† To Lord Midleton, March 7. 1721.