MEMOIRS OF THE LIFE AND REIGN OF GEORGE III.* THE
difficulty in dealing with Mr. Jesse's books is to understand the precise position which he claims for himself and his work. If he professes to be a historian and to put forward his massive volumes as histories, nothing remains but to consider him and them in that lofty position, and to show that neither he nor his works have any pretensions to the character they assume. He rarely forms or, as far as we can perceive, attempts to form any clear conception of a historic character or a historic event, and they are never narratives, but only baskets out of which the materials for narrative may be drawn. In this work, for example, his latest, and, as many readers will consider it, his best, the central figure is, as it ought to be, George III. We very much doubt whether Mr. Heneage Jesse has in any way whatever realized to himself George III., has attempted to understand him, has thought of him at all, except as the pivot round whom cluster a multitude of events, persons, and anecdotes more or less elucidatory of the man. We doubt even—and we could give columns of evidence for the doubt, peremptorily as Mr. Jesse would deny it—whether he is quite clear in his own mind as to George III. being an able man or not, a point which has puzzled observers and historians ever since he began to reign. So much has it puzzled them, that this one question seems now the one which historians of his reign have to settle, the datum without which nothing connected with George III. can be accurately understood. Towards it Mr. Jesse gives us very little help. Lle admires the monarch's moral qualities, he points out again, and again, and again that such an act, or letter, or "dodge "—there is no other word—could not have been performed, or written, or devised by the fool it suits many historians to believe the King to have been. But he never attempts to explain him, never makes a character of him, never saes clearly, so far as we can perceive, what manlier of man it was who looked like a farmer, yet made courtiers declare confidentially that he was the most courtier-like man in his own Court ; who hated like a Stuart, yet moved men to tears by his grace and kind- liness; who talked like a fool, yet whcan no statesman Approached without putting on his armour of wariness ; who persecuted his people, and was loved by them ; who lost America and nearly lost Hanover, yet who broke up the most powerful and rigidly dis- ciplined aristocracy which has ever held power even in aristocratic England. No doubt he is a difficult chancter to draw, but then has any one a right to publish a new history of him without drawing him, or at least conceiving bins ? There iS a very clear picture of him in Mr. Jesse's work, a pic- ture of him from which one may draw definite conclusions, may prove, so far as proof is possible, that George III. was externally the ablest bourgeois who ever held power in England, a successful tcadesatan in politics, a man who, if he had been a tea-dealer, or owner of a drapery warehouse, would have made a fortune, and • Memoirs of Go Life and Reign of George ILL By Flowage Jesse. Loudon: Tinsley. who was besides something more,—a gentleman whose governing thought, whether the thought was or was not accurately directed, was to do his duty to those entrusted to his charge. But Mr. Jesse does not draw that deduction, or any other, would be horrified at our summary—for how can a king be like a tea-dealer ?—but offers no alternative. About minor personages he is even less scrupulous, varying his view of them with the author he is consulting. Thus, at page 76 of Vol. I. we find him summing up the character of the elder Pitt thus :—" Despite of a few foibles, Pitt was a great man. He possessed a mind singur larly fertile in resources; a perception as clear in devising expee, dients as he was prompt in carrying them into execution ; au undaunted courage which never shrank from incurring responsi- bility; an originality of genius which led him to despise prece- dents, and to regard as trifling hindrances such obstacles as to inferior intellects appeared to be impossibilities; and lastly, he possessed a mind superior to all selfish considerations. To him the smiles or frowns of his Sovereign, the applause or censure of the multitude, the loss of office or the tenure of power, were as nothing compared with the one noble and all-absorbing object of his life the aggrandizement and prosperity of his native country. In the noblest sense of the word he was a patriot. He loved his country, and in the dark hours of her declining grandeur is said to have been impressed with the prophetic conviction that he was destined to save her. My Lord,' he once said to the Duke of Devon- shire, I sin sure that I can save this country, and that nobody else can." And only nine pages after, .Pitt's conduct in demanding a peerage for his wife and a pension a 3,000/. a year for himasif is described thus ;— " As regards the grant of a peerage to Lady Chatham, we learn from no less well informed a person than her brother, George Grenville, that so far from its having been forced upon the retiring Minister, it was earnestly pressed' by Pitt, and 'with great difficulty' acquiesced in by the King ; the truth of which statement seems to be borne out by Pitt's own words, in a letter to Bute dated the 7th of October, that he should be, above all, doubly happy could he see those dearer to him than himself comprehended in His Majesty's monuments of Royal appro- bation and goodness.' Pitt, in fact, was at this time all gratitude for the favours conferred upon him. To the King, personally, he not only expressed himself as sincerely and deeply grateful ; but on delivering up the Seals in the Royal closet, was singularly and painfully affected. Yesterday,' writes the Duke of Newcastle to the Duke of Bedford on the 6th, Mr. Pitt waited upon the King, and resigned the Seals. He expressed great concern that he was obliged to take that step from his differences of opinion with all the rest of the Council ; that he thought his remaining in office would only create difficulties and altercations in His Majesty's councils, and that out of office he would do everything in his power to support His Majesty, and recommended himself to Ilia goodness. He almost wished, he told the King, that his services had. been left unrewarded, in order that, as an entirely independent man, he might have opportunities of showing how deep was his gratitude, how disinterested was his zeal and affection for his Sovereign. When the young King expressed his regret at losing the services of so able a ear, vent, 'Sir,' said Mr. Pitt, I confess I had too much reason to expect your Majesty's displeasure : I did not come prepared for this exceeding goodness: pardon me, Sir,—it overpowers,—it oppresses me,' and he burst into tears."
No word reconciles the judgment and the narrative, and we do not believe Mr. Jesse sees they need reconciliation. There is his judgment on the whole character, and there is the particular inci- dent, and judgment being honest, and incident accurate, he is quite content. We ask someth lag more from a historian.
Is it quite fair, however, to Mr. Jesse to consider him a histo- rian? His true function in life is that of anecdotist, and if that is what he claims to be, no claim could be worthy of more respect. He is the prince of bookmakers, perhaps the only one of the tribe to whom the world really owes much, who can do what every bookmaker thinks himself able to do—index history. His plan of making a history or biography seems to be to get together every book entitled to be called authentic, and cut out of it every pas.- sage bearing on his immediate point, to compare and collate those passages, usually with very great care, not in order to reconcile them, but to give the contradictory or varying accounts, then to add as much manuscript information as he can procure,— sometimes very valuable,—and then to serve up the melange un- cooked. Honester compiler never lived. Unless a Royal per- sonage is concerned he never suppresses anything, or bides any- thing, or denies anything, and even as regards Royalty his respect often gives way to his love for truth ;—witness his accounts of the Dukes of Cumberland and York. Hisgrandpenchant, however, is for a well authenticated story, an anecdote which either reveals some- thing, or proves something, or explains something about persons. On such a story he will expend any amount of time and labour and research. We have mislaid a reference and cannot rediscover it to a note in which Mr. Jesse quotes three authorities for one joke ; but he has quoted two for his version of the following story, which,
accurate or: otherwise—and the multiplication of good sayings suggests doubt—is infinitely more complete than any current ver- sion. It was the Regency debate, and Thurlow, as usual when he meditated any particularly dirty transaction, was affected to tears. Having just made a transaction with the Prince, he moaned in terms of almost blasphemous loftiness over his own fidelity to his King :—
"On the steps of the throne stood three no less celebrated persons than Pitt, Burke, and Wilkes. The Duke of York had no sooner con- cluded his speech, than the Chancellor quitted the Woolsack for the purpose of addressing the House. In the most solemn and pathetic manner, and in a state of agitation which continued till a flood of tears came to his relief, he spoke of the great calamity which had befallen the throne and the country. It was, he said, his fixed and unalterable determination to stand by his Sovereign, a Sovereign who, during a reign which had now continued for twenty-seven years, had ever shown a sacred regard for the principles which had seated the House of Bruns- wick on the throne of Great Britain- As for himself individually, he con- tinued, his grief at the present moment was naturally more poignant than that of others, on account of the personal kindness and indulgence which he had experienced at the hands of his afflicted master. My debt of gratitude,' he concluded—and he rolled out, perhaps, the most majestic of those telling sentences with which he had dazzled a genera- tion= my debt of gratitude is indeed ample for the many favours which have been graciously conferred upon me by His Majesty;' and then it was that he delivered that famous peroration= When I forget my Sovereign, may my God forget ins !' Pitt, well acquainted as he was with the facts of the Chancellor's recent perfidies, was naturally thunderstruck at such unblushing effrontery. 'Oh, the rascal !' escaped his lips—words uttered lend enough to be overheard by Cieueral Manners, and probably by others who were standing by. God forget you?' muttered Wilkes, as he eyed him with his memorable squint, 'He'll see you d—d first!' ' Forget you?' said Burke ; 'why, it's the best thing that can happen to you!'" There are scores, literally scores, of such pages in Mr. Jesse's work, till his three volumes are brimful of amusement and interest, a perfect hotch-potch of good stories, pleasant anecdotes, and in- teresting details. He never leaves a story untold, unless it is a poor one, and seems in his hunt after manuscripts to be guided by a sort of scent for a characteristic anecdote. He has, for example, had access to the reminiscences of Mrs. William Stuart, wife of the Archbishop of Armagh, fifth son of the Earl of Bute, and extracts from them the following extraordinary story, related to Mrs. Stuart by Queen Charlotte herself. The extract is long, but it is the most original account in the book :— "'In the latter years of Queen Charlotte's life,' writes the lady referred to, 'I used often to spend some days at the Castle, and in one of these visits heard Her Majesty describe her own wedding. She -described her life at Mecklenburg as one of extreme retirement. They dressed only en robe de chambre except on Sundays, on which day she put on her best gown, and after service, which was very long, took an airing in the coach and six, attended by guards and all the state she could muster. She had not 'dined at table' at the period I am speaking of. One morning, her eldest brother, of whom she seems to have stood in great awe, came to her room in com- pany with the Duchess, her mother. He told her to prepare her best clothes, for they were to have grand couvert to receive an Ambassador from the King of England, and that she should for the first time dine with them. He added You will sit next him at dinner ; mind what you say, and ne faites pas l'enfant '—a favourite expression of his— 'and try to amuse him, and show him that you are not a fool.' She then asked her mother if she were to put on her blue tabby= et mos bijoux ?'—' Mon enfant,' said the duchess, tu n'en as point.' And the Queen produced her garnet ear-rings, which were strings of beads sown on a plate, about the size of a half-crown, and were then in fashion ; but which, as she said, a housemaid of these days would despise. Thus attired, she followed her mother into the saloon, and Mr. Drummond was introduced to her. To her great surprise her brother led her out first, which she supposed he did because it was her first appearance. Mr. Drummond sat at her right hand. She asked him about his journey, and of England, and then added := On me dit que votre Rd i est tree oxtremement beau et his aimable,' which seemed to raise a smile both in him and the Duke. A little frightened, she next added := Apparem- meat vous dies venu demander la Princesse de Prusse. On dit qn'elle cat tres belle et qu'elle sera votre Reine ?'—' Je domande pardon t votre Altesse; je n'ai aucnne commission pour cola.' And the smiles were so striking that she had not courage to open her lips again. In a few minutes, however, the folding doors flew open to the saloon, which she saw splendidly illuminated; and there appeared a table, two cushions, and everything prepared for a wedding. Her brother then gave her his hand ; and, leading her in, used his favourite expression:—' Aliens, Me faites pas l'enfant--tu vaa dire Reine d'Angleterre.' Mr. Drummond then advanced. They knelt down. The ceremony, whatever it was, proceeded. She was laid on the sofa, upon which he laid his foot; and they all embraced her, calling her 'la Rome.'" The " foot " was, as Mr. Jesse suggests, the exchange for a less ,delicate but older ceremony, designed, we imagine, but he does not suggest, to meet a difficulty possible under the old Catholic regime, the repudiation of a bride married by proxy upon grounds such as Henry VIII. pleaded against Anne of Cleves. So eager is his scent for a story that he has, in one instance at least, added a most valuable contribution to domestic history. Many of our readers may be aware that the popular belief in the innocence of
George sister, Caroline Matilda of Denmark, rests almost
entirely upon her dying declaration forwarded to her brother. The external evidence against her, as collected by Sir Lascelles Wraxall, would extort a verdict from any jury in the kingdom, but there remained the fact that she had written on her deathbed a let- ter to her mother containing this sentence :—" the letter pro- ceeds, that it might please the Almighty to convince the world, after my death, that I did not deserve any of the frightful accusa- tions by which the calumnies of my enemies stained my character, wounded my heart, traduced my honour, and trampled on my dignity ! Sire ! believe your dying sister—a Queen, and even more, a Christian—who would gaze with terror on the other world, if her last confession were a falsehood. I die willingly ; for the unhappy bless the tomb." Sir Lascelles Wraxall, receiving this paper from the Duchess of Augustenburg, as copied front Hanoverian archives, throws up his hand and pronounces the unhappy, though vulgar and guilty Princess, innocent of adultery. Mr. Jesse, having, as we said, a beagle's scent for a fact when such fact is part of a story, applied to Hanover, and received the fol- lowing reply :— "In the Royal Hanoverian Archives there is not the letter alluded to of the late Queen Caroline Mathildo of Danemark. Solely, the Royal Museum contains a printed copy of a letter pretending to be written by the said late Queen on her death-bed to her Royal brother, King George the Third of Great Britain, and it is presumed that the Duchess of Augustenburg was permitted, by tho late King Ernest Augustus' Majesty, to take a copy of this printed copy now in tho Family Museum. Forwarding to you another copy of this printed letter, I feel it any duty to acquaint you further, that the well informed officers of the Royal Archives are strongly impressed of the opinion that the said late Queen did never write, nor could write, on her death-bed such a letter, and that the pretended letter of Her Majesty is nothing but the work of one of her friends in England, written after her death and then translated. The history of Her Majesty's last illness and of her death is here well known, and excludes almost the possibility of her writing and forwarding such a letter to her Royal brother."
To those who want philosophic history we cannot recommend Mr. Jesse, but to the much greater multitude who love pleamat, torical reading, true stories about historical people, Iota of them, salted and otherwise, we cordially commend his most summing volumes.