18 AUGUST 1939, Page 25

Names and Realities

The Oxford History of England : The Whig Supremacy, 1714-1760. By Basil Williams. (Clarendon Press. 12s. 6d.) BOOKS in this series are meant to cover every aspect of history—political, international, military, economic, religious, &c. But we all, even students of particular periods, specialise

along certain lines, and to write a book of this type must be like for a distinguished doctor having to pass once more his medical examinations. Few of us would voluntarily undergo

such an ordeal ; and those who do deserve grateful appreci- ation. The distinguished biographer of Stanhope and Chat- ham was obviously the scholar best fitted to survey the period

1714-1760 ; and he has done the work in a most thorough and even manner. No aspect of history is allowed more than its due share of space and attention, and each chapter is based on a full knowledge of its literature. The book is packed with information ; it almost assumes the character of a book of reference, and is equally difficult to review with- out appearing unduly critical: for it is much easier to criti- cise than to sum up a book of that type.

There is something finite and limited about this epitome

of historical work, and a striking absence of uneasy self- questioning and of conscious gaps. Nowhere does the author

stop, as Professor Clark repeatedly does in the preceding volume on 1660-1714, to point out that " this question needs further research." He recounts what is known, or is sup- posed to be known, apparently untroubled by doubt. His book is an eminently, almost distressingly, orthodox pro- duction.

Take the title: The Whig Supremacy, 1714-176o. It ex-

presses what we have been taught to believe ; and obviously Professor Williams still believes it. On page 162, speaking about the " prejudice " against the Tories under George II, he says that " it required ten years of George III's reign before it finally disappeared." Is this an allusion to the " Tory " Administration of Lord North? But who were the "Tories" in it? North himself, Halifax, Sandwich, Dartmouth, Gower, Weymouth, Rochford? There were few, even among the junior ministers, who had not served under Newcastle, Grenville, Rockingham, or Grafton, and not one real Tory such as Sir John Hynde Cotton in the " Broadbottom Ad- ministration " of 1744. If only historians had taken the trouble to consider the following passage from Horace Walpole's Memoirs: . the body of Opposition still called itself Whig ; an appellation rather dropped than disclaimed by the Court ; and though the real Tories still adhered to their old distinctions . . . and fluctuated according as they esteemed particular chiefs not of their con- nexion . their whole conduct was comprised in silent votes . . .

This is a much more accurate account than when Walpole consciously discourses on the subject: one set of Whigs,

the Opposition, retained the old name, while the Court Whigs " rather dropped than disclaimed " it—neither North, nor Sandwich, nor George Germaine called themselves Tories, though they were described as such by Opposition pamphleteers. But there was a body of "real Tories," who had neither a party organisation nor leaders ; did not aspire to prominence or office ; and followed " chiefs not of their con- nexion " (e.g., Chatham) " according as they esteemed " these men.

When does the " Whig Supremacy " end? Or, rather, what is it that is supposed to have changed in 176o, the system or the personnel? Neither changed, not even in 177o. The story of British politics in the eighteenth century could roughly be told in these (very much simplified) terms. Before 1714, the game was played by two teams under two names. After 1714 one team was "disqualified" and one name was barred ; but as the game could not be played under a " one-party system," two teams were reformed sharing the same name. The Tories as such were not excluded, but only those who did not care for office and its prizes continued to call themselves Tories, and remained spectators ; which in politics means critics. When the game was officially thrown open to all "denominations," there were no " real Tories" left, fit or willing to play it. But as there was an obvious inconvenience in a " two-party game " under a "one-name system," the other name crept in again ; and towards the end of the century, after reshufflings of personnel so thorough that it is idle to speculate about the identity of the teams, they were reconsti- tuted under the two old names ; and reverting to certain types, they played the gam; with recurrent confusion and re- shufllings, which serve as a reminder that names do not always correspond to reality. To sum up: about 1750, " Whig " meant " an active politician," and " Tory " an " independent " ; and the Tories of about 1800 were, no less than the Whigs, spiritual, and largely even lineal, descendants of the Whigs of 175o. As for the system, it was not invented, but was fully developed by Walpole and the Pelhams ; and it survived till " party " replaced " patronage" as the cement of Parliamentary politics.

Still, all this may be considered a matter of interpretation, and I cannot expect mine to be accepted without much fuller argument by those who have not on their own reached similar conclusions. But there are a good many statements in Mr. Williams's book connected with the problem of the so-called parties, and inspired by the same orthodox tradition, which can more easily be put to a test. Thus on page 9 he

speaks of " the sturdy middle-class merchants, Whigs to a man. . . ." But what about the City of London and Sir John Barnard? What about the Beckfords who under George II ranked as " Tories," and co-operated in elections with Sir John Phillips, reputed a Jacobite? What, e.g., about Bristol, where in t754 one seat went to the Whigs, for reasons thus explained by the famous Dean Tucker: Before Mr. Nugent la Whig I . . was chosen to represent the City of Bristol, it was a general complaint among the citizens, that they had not a friend to whom they could apply for obtaining any favour from the great officers of State:—That a commercial city, such as theirs, stood in continual need of the interposition and assistance sometimes of the Treasury, sometimes of the Board of Trade, and sometimes of the Commissioners of the Customs, and the Excise, &c.

Thus for the " sturdy middle-class merchants" of Bristol the connexion with the Whigs was a "marriage de convenance," while their "liaison de ceeur" was with the Tories. In fact (but contrary to Whig historical tradition) many of the

independent merchant communities inclined to the Tories: merchants who dill not hunt for Government contracts or favours, formed the urban counterpart to the country gentle- men.

Or take the following statement on p. 77:

With such examples from their fathers in God, it is not surpris- ing that the country clergy found it to their advantage to throw all their influence on the Government side.

The problem was not quite so simple, seeing the amount of Church patronage held by Tory squires. Whereas Talbot, Bishop of Oxford, wrote to Lord Hardwicke, on February 8th, 1753: " I have no preferments to give the clergy. I cannot promise or threaten to behave to them according as they vote." In fact, the country clergy did not " throw all their influence on the Government side," and Mr. Williams himself, on p. 175, talks of Atterbury, the Jacobite, as " the idol of the country clergy."

And here is a third and last example. On p. 321 Mr. Williams states that " the pretentious political ideas ex- pounded by Bolingbroke in The Patriot King . . . infected the first twenty-four years of George III's reign "; and on p. 352, that "George III based his own right to choose his ministers on the cloudy teachings of The Patriot King. . ." I wish one of those who repeat the story about that book and

its influence would produce evidence to show that George III had read, or had been made to read, Bolingbroke. I know of none. But as for the King's right to choose his mini:.ter., this doctrine, under the name of " the independency of the Crown," was accepted by every single statesman in 176o, in- cluding Pitt. The King was the head of the Executive and had the choice of his ministers, as the President of the United States has now. The Prime Minister replaced the King as chief of the Executive only after strongly organised, disci- plined parties had arisen which, as a rule, leave the Crown no freedom of choice. But the discipline of a party is propor- tionate to the degree to which its members depend on it for their seats ; and there was no such dependence in the eighteenth century. The largest electoral influence was exer- cised through Government patronage, especially through that of the Treasury, and in normal circumstances the King could choose his "Minister" and supply him with the means of maintaining himself in office. There were, of course, certain practical limitations on the King's choice, but his right to it was rooted in the deepest realities of the eighteenth-century