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

Wilkes and Sandwich ceased to be friends


Wilkes flung his money and his wife's money about recklessly, while he played his part as a country gentleman upon the estate at Aylesbury which his unhappy wife had resigned to him when they separated. Of this money some eight thousand pounds went in an unsuccessful attempt to bribe his way into the representation of Berwick, and seven thousand more went in the successful attempt to buy himself the representation of Aylesbury. It is probable that he hoped to advance his failing fortunes in Parliament. His fortunes were failing, failing fast. He made an ignoble attempt to bully his wife out of the miserable income of two hundred a year which was all that she had saved out of her wealth, but the attempt was happily defeated by that Court of King's Bench against which Wilkes was to be pitted later in more honorable hostility.

It was perhaps impossible that Wilkes could long remain content with the companionship of men like Dashwood and Sandwich; it was certainly impossible that men {50} like Dashwood and like Sandwich could for long feel comfortable in the companionship of a man so infinitely their superior in wit, intelligence, and taste. The panegyrists of Sandwich--for even Sandwich had his panegyrists in an age when wealth and rank commanded compliment--found the courage to applaud Sandwich as a scholar and an antiquarian, on the strength of an account of some travels in the Mediterranean, which the world has long since willingly let die. But the few weeks or months of foreign travel that permitted Sandwich to pose as a connoisseur when he was not practising as a profligate could not inspire him with the humor or the appreciation of Wilkes, and a friendship only cemented by a common taste for common vices soon fell asunder. There is a story to the effect that the quarrel began with a practical joke which Wilkes played off on Sandwich at Medmenham. Sandwich, in some drunken orgy, was induced to invoke the devil, whereupon Wilkes let loose a monkey, that had been kept concealed in a box, and drove Sandwich into a paroxysm of fear in the belief that his impious supplication had been answered. For whatever reason, Wilkes and Sandwich ceased to be friends, to Wilkes's cost at first, and to Sandwich's after. Sandwich owes his unenviable place in history to his association with Wilkes in the first place, and in the next to his alliance with the beautiful, unhappy Miss Ray, who was murdered by her melancholy lover, the Rev. Mr. Hickman, at the door of Covent Garden Theatre. The fate of his mistress and his treason to his friend have preserved the name of Sandwich from the forgetfulness it deserved.

[Sidenote: 1763--Wilkes as a Member of Parliament]

In those days Wilkes made no very remarkable figure in Parliament. It was outside the walls of Westminster that he first made a reputation as a public man. In the unpopularity of Bute, Wilkes found opportunity for his own popularity. The royal peace policy was very unwelcome, and agitated the feeling of the country profoundly. Political controversy ran as high in the humblest cross-channels as in the main stream of courtly and political life. At that time, we are told by a contemporary {51} letter-writer, the mason would pause in his task to discuss the progress of the peace, and the carpenter would neglect his work to talk of the Princess Dowager, of Lord Treasurers and Secretaries of State. To win support and sympathy from such keen observers, the Ministry turned again for aid to the public press that had been so long neglected by the Whigs. Smollett, the remembered novelist, Murphy, the forgotten dramatist, were commissioned to champion the cause of the Government in the two papers, the _Briton_ and the _Auditor_.


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