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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

The mind of Chatham had altered


[Sidenote:

1778--Death of the Earl of Chatham]

The fatal war which had cost the English King the loss of his greatest colonies, which had spilt a vast amount of blood and wasted a vast amount of treasure in order to call into being a strong and naturally resentful rival to the power of England, must be said also to have cost the life of the greatest English statesman of the century. The genius of Chatham had never been more nobly employed than in protesting with all the splendor of its eloquence against the unjust war upon the Americans and the unjust deeds which had heralded the war. But time, that had only swelled the ranks of the wise and sane who thought as Chatham had thought and found their own utterance from the fire of his words, had wrought a change in the attitude of a great statesman. Harassed by the disease that racked his body, the mind of Chatham had altered. The noble views that he had maintained in defiance of a headstrong king and a corrupt ministry had changed in the face of the succession of calamities that had fallen upon his country. The success that he had desired for the insurgent arms had been accorded, and he came to despair at the consequence of that success. He had been granted his heart's desire in full measure, and the gratification choked him. When it came to be a question of conceding to the colonists that formal recognition of an independence which they had already won, the intellect of Chatham revolted against the

policy himself had fostered. He forgot or he forswore the principles which animated Burke, which animated Fox, which guided the course of Rockingham and inspired the utterances of Richmond. All he could see was an England humiliated by many defeats, an England threatened by many terrible alliances, and in the face of humiliation and of menace he forgot that both alike were the inevitable, the well-deserved fruit of injustice. Remembering that he had helped to make England great, he refused to remember that England would have been still greater if she had {186} followed the honorable course his wisdom had made plain to her. His proud, unhappy spirit could not consent to her dismemberment, a dismemberment which seemed to his fading intellect to be the equivalent to her ruin. He came from his sick bed, a ghastly image of decay, to offer the desperate protest of a dying man against surrender to the mutiny his own eloquence had fanned. "Come the four quarters of the world in arms and we will shock them." The spirit of Faulconbridge was strong in the ruined body of the statesman who was carried to his seat in the House of Lords by the son who bore his name and by the Lord Mahon who had married his daughter. His eagle face was turned against the men who had been his colleagues. His trembling hand pointed at them in condemnation. He gasped out a few sentences, almost inarticulate, almost inaudible, before he reeled in a fit upon the arms of those about him. He was carried from the House; he was carried to Hayes, and at Hayes a few weeks later the great career came to an end. His last battle was at least heroic. If his stroke was struck on the wrong side and for a cause his prime had done so much to baffle, it is not necessary to attribute his perversion entirely to the insidious ravages of the malady that had clouded his whole life. He could not bear to see the country that was in so eminent and so intimate a sense his country yield even to claims that were conspicuously right and just at the command of a league between England's rebellious children and England's enemy, France. There broke his mighty heart. In Chatham England lost one of the greatest of her statesmen, one of the most splendid of her sons. His life was passionately devoted to his country, his career one long struggle against a peculiarly bigoted, stubborn, and unwise King. Always hated by his enemies, often misunderstood by his friends, he showed while he lived a steadfast front alike against the enemies of England abroad and those worse enemies of England at home who filled the throne and the places about the throne. He was buried with great pomp and honor at Westminster, leaving behind him not merely the memory of an illustrious name, {187} but a name that the second generation was still to make illustrious.


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