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A History of the Four Georges, Volume I

Arthur Onslow was born in 1691


Shippen's

speech hit hard, and must have been felt by the ministry. The one charge against Walpole's government which he could not refute was the charge of extravagance in corruption. The ministers, however, affected to treat the speech with contempt, and were justified in doing so by the manner in which the House of Commons {282} dealt with it. No answer was given to Shippen's statements, because Shippen's motion was not seconded and fell to the ground. The resolutions proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were carried without a division, and a bill was ordered to be brought in to give effect to them. A provision of one hundred thousand pounds a year was voted for the Queen, in case she should survive the King. The vote was agreed to without division or debate. Parliament was dissolved by proclamation on August 7th.

[Sidenote: 1728--Onslow as Haroun-al-Raschid]

The new Parliament met on January 23d, 1728. It was found that the ministerial majority was even greater than it had been before. The King opened Parliament in person, and directed the Commons, who had been summoned to the House of Peers, to return to their own House and choose their Speaker. The Commons unanimously chose Arthur Onslow to this high office. Compton, the former Speaker, had been soothed with a peerage after his "evaporation." Arthur Onslow was born in 1691, and had been in Parliament from 1719; in July, 1728, he was made Privy Councillor.

We may anticipate events a little for the purpose of mentioning the fact that all the writers of his time united in ascribing to Speaker Onslow, as he has always since been called, a combination of the best attributes which fit a man to preside over the House of Commons. It is said that his election to the Speaker's chair was brought about mainly by Sir Robert Walpole, and that Walpole expected Onslow to use his great abilities and authority to suit the policy and serve the wishes of the administration. If this was Walpole's idea, he must soon have found himself as much mistaken as the conclave of cardinals about whom so much is said in history, romance, and the drama, who elected one of their order as Pope because they believed him to be too feeble and nerveless to have any will of his own, and were much amazed to find that the moment the new Pope had been elected he suddenly became strong and energetic--the master and not the servant. Onslow's whole {283} conduct in the chair of the House of Commons during the many years which he occupied it displayed an absolute and fearless impartiality. The chair has never been better filled in English history; the very title of "Speaker Onslow," ever afterwards given to him, is of itself a tribute to his impartiality and his services. Onslow was a man who loved letters and art, and also, it is said, loved studying all varieties of life. It is reported of him that he used to go about disguised, like a sort of eighteenth-century Haroun-al-Raschid, among the lowest classes of men, in out-of-the-way parts of the capital, for the purpose of studying the forms and manners of human life. Legend has preserved the memory of a certain public-house, called "The Jews'-harp," where Onslow is said to have amused himself many an evening, sitting in the chimney-corner and exchanging talk and jests with the company who frequented the place. It is pleasant to be able to believe these stories of Speaker Onslow in that highly artificial and formal age--that age of periwigs and paint and shallow formulas. It is somewhat refreshing to meet with this clever man of eccentric ways, the great "Speaker," who could wear his official robes with so much true dignity, and then, when he had laid them aside, could amuse himself after his own fashion, and study life in some of its queerest corners with the freshness of a school-boy and the eye of an artist.


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