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LIFE AND REIGN
WILLIAM THE FOURTH.
THE REV. G. N. WRIGHT, M. A.
JOHN WATKINS, LL.D.
FISHER, SON, & CO., LONDON.
Ar the period of his birth, WILLIAM The Fourth had but a remote prospect of succeeding to that proud inheritance, the crown of his royal ancestors, which he subsequently wore for the happiness of his people. But, from this precise circumstance he enjoyed the advantage of having the foibles of his boyhood, the indiscretions that were characteristic of his robust youth, less known, less published, and therefore less misunderstood, than those of his illustrious predecessor.
His infancy was watched with the anxious solicitude of a virtuous mother; his education directed and conducted by men eminent alike for piety and learning; and his transit through his Ephebia, though not hitherto recorded in the annals of his country, was accomplished in a manner peculiarly appropriate to the scion of an Island-king, that is, within the “ wooden walls” of his country.
His early biography is inseparably associated with the naval annals of Great Britain, the youthful prince having shared in some of the boldest exploits, and most brilliant victories, won by British courage and seamanship, during the eventful reign of his royal Father. The fortitude, skill, heroism, and devotedness of British seamen, he had frequently witnessed; and in speaking of the dangers undergone by his countrymen in their struggles for the
empire of the ocean, he might have adopted the beautiful language of Troy's wandering prince :
“ Quorum pars magna fui
quæque ipse miserrima vidi.” Passing from the rank of a disciplined, brave, and accomplished sailor, the Prince entered upon a life of privacy and seclusion, during which period few of his actions transpired beyond the sphere of his personal acquaintance, or were known without the limits of his peaceful dwelling. In this enviable position, he exhibited the same gentleness of manner, benevolence of disposition, easiness of approach, and genuine philanthropy, which marked the character of the youthful sailor, the honoured prince, and the humane senator.
Of the sanguinary measures adopted by the policy of George the Third's reign, the dismemberment of the British empire by the amputation of America, Prince William was wholly guiltless. To those suggestions in which originated our national debt, of which numeration is now almost inadequate to convey a distinct notion, he was no party. He was of too tender an age to have recommended those aggressions in which he afterwards personally assisted, for maintaining the honour of his country, and acquiring those accessions of territory, which retaliation, or national self-defence, rendered absolutely necessary for the well-being of the state. Unconscious of his approaching destiny, the future King beheld one monarch led to the scaffold of death, and the rich diadems fall from the brows of others. He heard the children of enthusiasm exclaim, “The throne we honour is the people's choice;" he felt that“ the laws he reverenced were his brave father's legacy." Still he remained, like the proud and stately ship that “walks the waters like
a thing of life,” unmoved from those christian, charitable, impartial principles, that during a long, and in some respect, active life, were never deflected from the line of rectitude, except by an occasional influx of the noblest feelings; unshaken by the waves of popular commotion, unawed by the fates of those that fell around him, he possessed and displayed the courage of a British sailor, which is aslo acknowledged to be the inheritance of every British prince.
The greatest political struggle that has been consummated since 1688, occurred in the reign of William the Fourth. It appears to have had its birth, to have acquired strength, and reached maturity, simultaneously with the advancement of knowledge. The highest talents, the most remarkable men, the most wealthy individuals, the most influential persons of the times, all engaged in the great contest for or against “ Reform.” The King held, between the contending parties, the balance of justice, not of power, and left the Greek and Trojan indiscriminately to his fate. William the Fourth deserved well of his country if ever monarch did; he interposed no courtly or princely jealousies between the great body of his subjects, and the widest extension of popular right or privilege; he exercised power meekly and beneficently; be watched with satisfaction the spread and growth of constitutional freedom; he trampled on no man, persecuted no man; deliberately or consciously he offended no man; nor did the late King create one personal enemy in the world, from the hour he ascended the throne of England to the hour of his death.
The review here taken of the earlier years of William IV., necessarily includes a very important notice of the British Navy. The period he passed in retire