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CONTINUATION OF THE LIFE OF LORD THURLOW TILL HE WAS
FINALLY DISMISSED FROM THE OFFICE OF CHANCELLOR.
In the midst of profound tranquillity at home and abroad, CHAP. the nation was suddenly thrown into a state of the greatest
CLX. consternation and alarm by the avowal of his Majesty's complete incapacity to exercise any of the functions of his high The King's office. It is now known that he had laboured under a similar illness, for a few weeks, in the year 1765, which was the cause of the regency bill then passed; but the fact was successfully concealed from the public. The symptoms now returned upon him, at first rather gradually, causing unexampled embarrassment to his Ministers. Near the close of the preceding session of Parliament his Majesty was occasionally in a very excited state, and when he returned from his visit to Cheltenham, there appeared still greater cause for apprehension. Parliament stood prorogued to the 25th of September.
When that day approached, the King had still intervals of clear understanding, and exhibited demonstrations of accurate perception and an undiminished power of reasoning. A council was held, which went off very quietly, when an order was made for a further prorogation, and his Majesty signed a warrant for a commission to pass the Great Seal for that purpose, and Parliament was, with the usual solemnities, prorogued by the Lord Chancellor till the 20th of November, then to meet for the despatch of business.
At a levée held at St. James's before that day arrived, his Ma- Oct. 24. jesty's conversation and demeanour left no doubt in the mind 1788. of any who were present as to the nature of his malady. It was
It had been stated by Smollett, in his history of the commencement of this reign; but only a few copies containing the statement were sold : they were eagerly bought up by the Government, and the faint whisper which they caused died away. — Adolphus, i. 177.
immediately after necessary to put him under restraint ; his life for some days was considered to be in imminent danger,
and when this paroxysm subsided he was still totally and constantly deprived of the use of reason. The royal sufferer was removed first to Windsor, and afterwards to Kew,—where he was put under the care of Dr. Willis, and other physicians supposed to be best acquainted with the treatment of
alienation of mind. Course
Mr. Pitt, whether right or wrong in the opinion he formed, taken by
resolved at once, in a direct and straightforward manner, to delay as long as possible the transfer of the power of the Crown to the Prince of Wales, now leagued with the Whigs, and looked upon with distrust by the nation on account of his profligate habits ; – to limit materially the exercise of the royal prerogative in the Prince's hands ; – to intrust the custody of the King's person, and the patronage of the royal household, to the Queen ; -- and, for these purposes, to contend that the two Houses of Parliament had the right to appoint a Regent, and to define and restrain the authority under which he was to act. The Prime Minister, assuming for certain that he himself would be dismissed on the accession of the Regent, and wishing to diminish the influence of his successor, had to struggle boldly for a crippled regency,--on the ostensible ground that the rights of the Sovereign supposed
to be on the throne might otherwise be endangered. Perplexity
But the Chancellor was in sad perplexity. Although only a of the Lord few weeks before he thought that he held the Great Seal for
life, the dreadful thought now arose that it would be snatched from him by his rival, who had lately seemed for ever destined to the punishment of listening to the drowsy Serjeants in the Court of Common Pleas. But Thurlow began to consider with himself whether, having been Chancellor under Lord Rockingham as well as under Lord North, he might not be Chancellor under Mr. Fox as well as under Mr. Pitt. Mr. Fox had not yet returned from his Italian tour, and the Prince's affairs were under the direction of Sheridan and other Whig leaders, who were impatient to see the Prince installed as Regent, who highly disrelished the threatened restrictions, who perceived how useful Thurlow might be if
gained over in furthering these objects, who dexterously guessed at his longings and cogitations, and who formed a just estimate of his regard for honour and consistency.
The intrigue with Thurlow is supposed to have been first His insuggested by Captain Rayne, the comptroller of the Prince's trigue with household. In a letter to Sheridan he said, “I think the House. Chancellor might take a good opportunity to break with his colleagues if they propose restriction. The law authority would have great weight with us, as well as preventing even a design of moving the city.” In consequence, a negotiation with the Chancellor was opened, to which the Prince himself was a party. The legal dignitary seemed very placable, and not much disinclined to the doctrine that “the Prince ought to be declared unrestricted Regent,” although he took special care, at first, to deal only in general verbal assurances, without entering into any specific engagement. * In this state of affairs, Captain Rayne, again addressing Sheridan, said, “I inclose you the copy of a letter the Prince has just written to the Chancellor and sent by express, which will give you the outline of the conversation with the Prince as well as the situation of the King's health. I think it an advisable measure, as it is a sword that cuts both ways, without being unfit to be shown to whom he pleasea, but which I think he will understand best himself.”
Thurlow, before he would proceed further, required a Bargain, distinct promise that under the Regency he should retain the that, in conGreat Seal. This at first caused much difficulty, for Lord of his conLoughborough had been acting with the Whigs ever since tinuing
Chancellor, the formation of the Coalition Ministry; a five years' oppo- he should sition had made them forget all former differences, and it was right of the well understood that he was to gain the grand object of his Prince of ambition if they ever came into power. Sheridan, however, without readvised that, without consulting him, Thurlow, who spurned strictions. at the Presidency of the Council, should be bought at his own
*“ He studiously sought intercourse with the Prince of Wales, that he might have an opportunity of conveying to him his sentiments on his Royal Highness's situation. He recommended to him to lie upon his oars,—to show no impatience to assume the powers of royalty. He pointed out to him that if the King's illness were of any considerable duration, the regency must necessarily devolve upon him.” – Nich. Recoll. 71.
CHAP. price, and the bargain was nearly concluded that Thurlow, in
consideration of being appointed Chancellor under the Prince when Regent, should support the right of the Prince to
succeed to the Regency without restriction. Mr. Fox This was the state of affairs when Fox arrived from Italy. arrives from Italy. Recollecting what had happened during the Rockingham ad
ministration, he had an absolute horror of Thurlow, and heard of the promise given to him with the most bitter regret. However, as things had gone so far, he wrote the following letter to Sheridan, showing his distrust as well as his acquiescence:
Dear Sheridan, “I have swallowed the pill — a most bitter one it was —
and have written to Lord Loughborough, whose answer of dan, reluctantly ac- course must be consent. What is to be done next? Should quiescing in this ar
the Prince himself, you, or I, or Warren, be the person rangement. to speak to the Chancellor? The objection to the last is,
that he must probably wait for an opportunity, and that no time is to be lost. Pray tell me what is to be done. I am convinced after all that the negotiation will not succeed, and am not sure that I am sorry for it. I do not remember ever feeling so uneasy about any political thing I ever did
His letter to Sheri
in my life.”
On hearing of this intrigue, so fatal to his hopes, Lord Loughborough wrote the following letter to Sheridan, by which he tried to counteract it, without disclosing the deep resentment which he felt:
“My dear S. Letter of
“I was afraid to continue the conversation on the circum
stance of the inspection committed to the Chancellor, lest the from Lord reflections that arise upon it might have made too strong an borough to impression on some of our neighbours last night. It does Sheridan. indeed appear to me full of mischief, and of that sort most
likely to affect the apprehensions of our friends (Lord John for instance), and to increase their reluctance to take any active part.
“ The Chancellor's object evidently is to make his way by
himself, and he has managed hitherto as one very well
practised in that game. His conversations both with you and Mr. Fox were encouraging, but at the same time checked all explanations on his part, under a pretence of delicacy towards his colleagues. When he let them go to Salthill, and contrived to dine at Windsor, he certainly took a step that most men would have felt not very delicate in its appearance, and, unless there was some private understanding between him and them, not altogether fair, especially if you add to it the sort of conversation he held with regard to them. I cannot help thinking that the difficulties of managing the patient have been exerted or improved to lead to the proposal of his inspection (without the Prince being conscious of it), for by that situation he gains an easy and frequent access to him, and an opportunity of possessing the confidence of the Queen. I believe this the more from the account of the tenderness he showed at his first interview, for I am sure it is not his character to feel any. With a little instruction from Lord Hawkesbury, the sort of management that was carried on by means of the Princess Dowager in the early part of the reign may easily be practised. In short, I think he will try to find the key of the backstairs ----and with that in his pocket, take any situation that preserves his access, and enables him to hold a line between different parties. In the present moment, however, he has taken a position that puts the command of the House of Lords in his hands.
“I wish Mr. Fox and you would give these considerations what weight you think they deserve, and try if any means can be taken to remedy this mischief, if it appears in the same light to you."
This surely must be an exaggerated picture of Thurlow's craft and duplicity ; ---- otherwise, since the time of Richard III., these qualities have not been exhibited in such an extraordinary degree by any character in English history. The Chancellor is here represented as interfering with the proper management of the illustrious patient for his own sinister ends — when admitted to the presence of his afflicted Sovereign, although untouched by the melancholy spectacle, and only anxious about the personal advantages he might derive