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

Lord Melbourne was quite equal to the occasion


William must have put a strong constraint upon himself when he found that he had to receive, on terms at least of civility, so many of the men, as ministers, whom he had abruptly dismissed from his service not long before. For a considerable time he put up with them rather than received them, and maintained a merely official relationship with them so far even as not to invite them to dinner. {253} After a time, however, his Majesty somewhat softened in temper; the relations between him and his advisers became less strained; and he even went so far as to invite the members of the Cabinet to dinner, and expressed in his invitation the characteristic wish that each guest would drink at least two bottles of wine. When the construction of the new Ministry had been completed, Parliament reassembled on April 18; but that meeting was little more than of formal character, as the Houses had again to adjourn in order to enable the new members who were members of the House of Commons to resign and seek, according to constitutional usage, for re-election at the hands of their constituents. The only public interest attaching to the meeting of Parliament on April 18 was found in an attempt, made by two Tory peers, to extract from Lord Melbourne some public explanation as to his dealings with O'Connell and the Irish party. Lord Melbourne was quite equal to the occasion, and nothing could be drawn from him further than the declaration that he had entered into no arrangements whatever with
O'Connell; that if the Irish members should, on any occasion, give him their support, he should be happy to receive it, but that he had not taken and did not mean to take any steps to secure it. The incident is worth noting because it serves to illustrate, once again, the effect of the new condition which had been introduced into the struggles of the two great political parties by the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act, and the consequent admission of Irish Catholic members into the House of Commons.

Some of the members of the new Administration were not successful when they made their appeal to their old constituencies. Lord John Russell, for instance, was beaten in South Devonshire by a Tory antagonist, and a vacancy had to be made for him in the little borough of Stroud, the representative of which withdrew in order to oblige the leaders of his party, and obtained, in return for his act of self-sacrifice, an office under Government. Lord Palmerston was placed in a difficulty of the same kind, and a vacancy was made for him in the borough of {254} Tiverton by the good-nature and the public spirit of its sitting representative, and from that time to the end of his long career Lord Palmerston continued to be the member for Tiverton, which indeed won, by that fact alone, a conspicuous place in Parliamentary history. There were other disturbances of the same kind in the relations of the members of the new Government and their former constituents, and it was clear enough that a certain reaction was still working against the political impulse which had carried the Reform measures to success. Still, it was clear that the new Government had come into power as a Government of reformers, and Lord Melbourne found himself compelled to go on with the work of reform. Nothing could be less in keeping with his habits and the inclinations of his easy-going nature. It used to be said of him that whenever he was urged to set about any work of the kind his instinctive impulse always was to meet the suggestion with the question: "Why can't you let it alone?" Now, however, he had in his Cabinet some men, like Lord John Russell, whose earnestness in the cause of Reform was genuine and unconquerable; and if Lord Melbourne was too indolent to press forward reforms on his own account, he was also too indolent to resist such a pressure when put on him by others.

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