페이지 이미지

The bravery of the Brunswicks, that all the family must have it, that George possessed it, are points which all English writers have agreed to admit; and yet I cannot see how George IV. should have been endowed with this quality. Swaddled in feather-beds all his life, lazy, obese, perpetually eating and drinking, his education was quite unlike that of his tough old progenitors. His grandsires had confronted hardship and war, and ridden up and fired their pistols undaunted into the face of death. His father had conquered luxury and overcome indolence.

Here was

one who never resisted any temptation ; never had a desire but he coddled and pampered it ; if ever he had any nerve, frittered it away among cooks, and tailors, and barbers, and furniture-mongers, and opera-dancers. What muscle would not grow flaccid in such a life-a life that was never strung up to any action-an endless Capua without any campaignall fiddling, and flowers, and feasting, and flattery, and folly ? When George III. was pressed by the Catholic question and the India Bill, he said he would retire to Hanover rather than yield upon either point; and he would have done what he said. But, before yielding, he was determined to fight his Ministers and Parliament; and he did, and he beat them. The time came when George IV. was pressed too upon the Catholic claims; the cautious Peel had slipped over to that side; the grim old Wellington had joined it; and Peel tells us, in his “Memoirs,” what was the conduct of the King. He at first refused to submit; whereupon Peel and the Duke offered their resignations, which their gracious master accepted. He did these two gentlemen the honour, Peel says, to kiss them both when they went away. (Fancy old Arthur's grim countenance and eagle beak as the monarch kisses it :) When they were gone he sent after them, surrendered, and wrote to them a letter begging them to remain in office, and allowing them to have their way. Then his Majesty had a meeting with Eldon, which is related at curious length in the latter's “Memoirs.” He told Eldon what was not true about his interview with the new Catholic converts; utterly misled the old ex-Chancellor; cried, whimpered, fell on his neck, and kissed him

This a

too. We know old Eldon's own tears were pumped very freely. Did these two fountains gush together? I can't fancy a behaviour more unmanly, imbecile, pitiable. This a defender of the faith ! chief in the crisis of a great nation! This an inheritor of the courage of the Georges !

Many of my hearers no doubt have journeyed to the pretty old town of Brunswick, in company with that most worthy, prudent, and polite gentleman, the Earl of Malmesbury, and fetched away Princess Caroline for her longing husband, the Prince of Wales. Old Queen Charlotte would have had her eldest son marry a niece of her own, that famous Louisa of Strelitz, afterwards Queen of Prussia, and who shares with Marie Antoinette in the last age the sad pre-eminence of beauty and misfortune. But George III. had a niece at Brunswick : she was a richer princess than her Serene Highness of Strelitz :—in fine, the Princess Caroline was selected to marry the heir to the English throne. We follow my Lord Malmesbury in quest of her; we are introduced to her illustrious father and royal mother; we witness the balls and fêtes of the old court; we are presented to the Princess herself, with her fair hair, her blue eyes, and her impertinent shoulders-a lively, bouncing, romping Princess, who takes the advice of her courtly English mentor most generously and kindly. We can be present at her very toilette, if we like; regarding which, and for very good reasons, the British courtier implores her to be particular. What a strange court! What a queer privacy of morals and manners do we look into ! Shall we regard it as preachers and moralists, and cry Woe, against the open vice and selfishness and corruption; or look at it as we do at the king in the pantomime, with his pantomime wife and pantomime courtiers, whose big heads he knocks, together, whom he pokes with his pantomime sceptre, whom he orders to prison under the guard of his pantomime beefeaters, as he sits down to dine on his pantomime pudding? It is grave, it is sad; it is theme most curious for moral and political speculation ; it is monstrous, grotesque, laughable, with its prodigious littlenesses, etiquettes, ceremonials, sham moralities; it is as serious as a sermon, and as absurd and outrageous as Punch's puppet-show.

Malmesbury tells us of the private life of the Duke, Princess Caroline's father, who was to die, like his warlike son, in arms against the French ; presents us to his courtiers, his favourite; his Duchess, George III.'s sister, a grim old Princess, who took the British envoy aside, and told him wicked old stories of wicked old dead people and times; who came to England afterwards when her nephew was regent, and lived in a shabby furnished lodging, old, and dingy, and deserted, and grotesque, but somehow royal. And we go with him to the Duke to demand the Princess's hand in form, and we hear the Brunswick guns fire their adieux of salute, as H.R.H. the Princess of Wales departs in the frost and snow; and we visit the domains of the Prince Bishop of Osnaburg—the Duke of York of our early time; and we dodge about from the French revolutionists, whose ragged legions are pouring over Holland and Germany, and gaily trampling down the old world to the tune of ça ira; and we take shipping at Slade, and we land at Greenwich, where the Princess's ladies and the Prince's ladies are in waiting to receive her Royal Highness.

What a history follows ! Arrived in London, the bridegroom hastened eagerly to receive his bride. When she was first presented to him, Lord Malmesbury says she very properly attempted to kneel. He raised her gracefully enough, embraced her, and turning round to me, said,

Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy.” I said, “Sir, had you not better have a glass of water ? "

Upon which, much out of humour, he said, with an oath, “No; I will go to the Queen.”

What could be expected from a wedding which had such a beginning—from such a bridegroom and such a bride? I am not going to carry you through the scandal of that story, or follow the poor Princess through all her vagaries; her balls and her dances, her travels to Jerusalem and Naples, her jigs, and her junketings, and her tears. As I read her trial in history, I vote she is not guilty. I don't say it is an impartial verdict; but as one reads her story the heart bleeds for the kindly, generous, outraged creature. If wrong there be, let it lie at his door who wickedly thrust her from it. Spite of her follies, the great hearty people of England loved, and pro

[graphic][merged small]

tected, and pitied her. “God bless you ! we will bring your husband back to you,” said a mechanic one day, as she told Lady Charlotte Bury with tears streaming down her cheeks. They could not bring that husband back; they could not cleanse that selfish heart. Was hers the only one he had wounded? Steeped in selfishness, impotent for faithful attachment and manly enduring love,-had it not survived remorse, was it not accustomed to desertion ?

Malmesbury gives us the beginning of the marriage story ;-how the Prince reeled into chapel to be married ; how he hiccupped out his vows of fidelity-you know how he kept them; how he pursued the woman whom he had married ; to what a state he brought her; with what blows he struck her ; with what malignity he pursued her; what his treatment of his daughter was; and what his own life. He the first gentleman of Europe! There is no stronger satire on the proud English society of that day, than that they admired George.

No, thank God, we can tell of better gentlemen ; and whilst our eyes turn away, shocked, from this monstrous image of pride, vanity, weakness, they may see in that England over which the last George pretended to reign, some who merit indeed the title of gentlemen, some who make our hearts beat when we hear their names, and whose memory we fondly salute when that of yonder imperial manikin is tumbled into oblivion. I will take men of my own profession of letters. I will take Walter Scott, who loved the King, and who was his sword and buckler, and championed him like that brave Highlander in his own story, who fights round his craven chief. What a good gentleman! What a friendly soul, what a generous hand, what an amiable life was that of the noble Sir Walter ! I will take another man of letters, whose life I admire even more,--an English worthy, doing his duty for fifty noble years of labour, day by day storing up learning, day by day working for scant wages, most charitable out of his small means, bravely faithful to the calling which he had chosen, refusing to turn from his path for popular praise or princes' favour ;-I mean Robert Southey. We have left his old political landmarks miles and miles behind; we protest against his dogmatism ; nay, we begin to forget it and his politics : but I hope his life will not be forgotten, for it is sublime in its simplicity, its energy, its honour, its affection. In the combat between Time and Thalaba, I suspect the former destroyer has conquered. Kehama's curse frightens very few readers now; but Southey's private

[ocr errors]
« 이전계속 »