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Cairness had made a tune for himself and was putting to it the words of the ill-fated poet of his own Land of the Dawning.In Ireland the effervescence assumed the shape of resistance to commercial injustice. It was, indeed, impossible to condemn too strongly the injustice which that country had endured for ages, and in nothing more than in the flagrant restrictions heaped upon its commerce and manufactures in favour of English interests. The Irish now seized on the opportunity while America was waging war against the very same treatment to imitate the American policy. They formed associations in Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, and other places, for the non-importation of British goods which could be manufactured in Ireland, till England and Ireland were placed on an equal footing in all that related to manufactures and commerce. Ministers, who had turned a deaf ear for years, and almost for ages, to such complaints, were now alarmed, especially as there was a rumour of French invasion, which might be so materially aided by disaffection in Ireland. They therefore made a pecuniary grant to relieve the commercial distress in Ireland, and passed two Acts for the encouragement of the growth of tobacco and hemp, and the manufacture of linen in that island. These concessions, however, were not deemed sufficient, and the people formed themselves into Volunteer Associations, appointing their own officers, and defraying the cost of their own equipments. This was done under the plea of the danger of invasion; but Government knew very well that American agents had been very busy sowing discontent in Ireland, and they saw too much resemblance in these things to the proceedings on the other side of the Atlantic not to view them with alarm. The Marquis of Rockingham, who had been well instructed in the real grievances of Ireland by Burke, moved in the House of Lords, on the 11th of May, for the production of all papers necessary to enable the House to come to a full understanding of the trade of Ireland and of mercantile restrictions on it with a view to doing impartial justice to that kingdom. Lord Gower promised that these should be ready for production next Session.
These enactments, unaccompanied by any others the object of which was to relieve the distress of the people, only tended still more to exasperate the feelings of the working classes. In fact, nothing had been so obvious as the effect of the proceedings of Government of late in disturbing that peace which they professed themselves so desirous to preserve. They, in truth, were the real agitators. The passing of the Six Acts only made the popular resentment the deeper, and whilst this tended to render the more prudent Reformers cautious, it stimulated the lowest and most unprincipled of them to actual and deadly conspiracy. The general conspiracy believed in by Ministers never existed, but a conspiracy was actually on foot in London, which again was found to have been, if not originally excited, yet actively stimulated, by the agents of Government. The details of this transaction, and of the concluding scene of the Manchester outrage, namely, the trial of Hunt and his associates, necessarily lead us about two months beyond the death of George III., which took place on the 29th of January, 1820. In November, 1819, whilst Government were framing their Six Acts, the more completely to coerce the people, they were again sending amongst them incendiaries to urge them to an open breach of the laws in order to furnish justifications for their despotic policy. The leading miscreant of this class was a man named Edwards, who kept a small shop at Eton for the sale of plaster casts. Some of the emissaries appeared at Middleton, the place of Bamford's abode, but he was in prison awaiting his trial with Hunt and the rest, and the people tempted were too cautious to listen to these agents of Government. But in London these agents found more combustible materials, and succeeded in leading into the snare some who had been long ready for any folly or crime. Chief amongst these was Thistlewood, who had been a lieutenant in the army, a man who had, or conceived that he had, suffered injustice at the hands of Ministers, and who had wrought up his temper to the perpetration of some desperate deed. Bamford when in London, in 1816, had found Thistlewood mixed up with the Spenceans, and to be met with any day at their places of resortthe "Cock," in Grafton Street, the "Mulberry Tree," in Moorfields, the "Nag's Head," Carnaby Market, No. 8, Lumber Street, Borough, and a public-house in Spa Fields, called "Merlin's Cave." At these places they might be found, amidst clouds of tobacco-smoke and the fumes of beer, discussing remedies for the miserable condition of the people. At the latter place Thistlewood was often to be found with the Watsons, Preston, and Castles, who was employed to betray them. From this spot they issued for their mad attempt on the Tower on the 2nd of December of that year. Thistlewood was one of those seized on that occasion, but was acquitted on his trial. Not warned by this, he no sooner got abroad than he sent a challenge to Lord Sidmouth, for which he was arrested, and sentenced to a year's imprisonment. He issued from gaol still more embittered against Sidmouth and his colleagues, and resolved on striking some mortal blow at them. He did not lack comrades of a like fiery and abandoned stamp, and they determined on a scheme for cutting off the whole Cabinet together. The detestable deed was to be perpetrated in the autumn of 1819, a time when the public mind, especially that of the working classes, was so embittered against the Government. They did not, however, succeed in their intentions, and it was at this crisis of unwilling delay that the man Edwards became privy to their plans. In November he carried the important, and, as he hoped, to him profitable secret to Sir Herbert Taylor, who was attached to the establishment of the king at Windsor, and by him he was introduced to Lord Sidmouth. This minister and his colleagues, with that fondness for the employment of spies, and for fomenting sedition instead of nipping it in the bud, immediately engaged Edwards, on good pay, to lead forward the conspirators into overt action. It was not enough for them that, by adding another witness or two to Edwards, they would be able to produce the most complete proof of the treason of these menthey rather luxuriated in the nursing of this plot, and thus ripening it into something bloody and horrible; and in this they succeeded.It was the usual tale of woe that Geronimo had to tell, much the same that the old buck had recited to[Pg 298] Cairness in the spring of the last year. His particular grievance was the request for his hanging, which he had been told had been put in the papers, and his fear of three White-men who he believed were to arrest him. "I don't want that any more. When a man tries to do right, such stories ought not to be put in the newspapers. What is the matter with you that you do not speak to me? It would be better if you would look with a pleasant face. I should be more satisfied if you would talk to me once in a while." The interpreter translated stolidly. "Why don't you look at me and smile at me? I am the same man. I have the same feet, legs, and hands, and the Sun looks down on me a complete man." There was no doubt about that, at any rate, and perhaps it was not an unmixed good fortune.
Whilst this war was raging in Europe, and carrying its ramifications to the most distant regions of the world, Clive and Eyre Coote were extending the British Empire in India, and, in the case of Clive, with as much ability as Frederick of Prussia showed in enlarging his kingdom in Europe. Clive, in 1757, put down Surajah Dowlah, the Nabob of Bengal, and in June of that year defeated him at Plassey with a mere handful of men against his enormous host. He set up Surajah Dowlah's General-in-chief, Meer Jaffier, and hailed him Nabob of Bengal, Orissa, and Bahar. We claimed from Meer Jaffier two million seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds as the share of the Company, the fleet, and the army. Clive's own share was two hundred and fifty-four thousand pounds, and the shares of the members of the committee ran from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand pounds each. Besides this, it was stipulated that the French factories and effects should be given up to the English, and the French never again allowed to enter Bengal. The territory surrounding Calcutta, within a given distance of the town, was to be granted them on zemindary tenure, the company paying the rent, like the other zemindars or landholders. Thus the British, who were before merely the tenants of a factory, became in reality the rulers of Bengal.
Whilst the French were seizing on Portugal, the Spanish royal family was convulsed by quarrels. Ferdinand, the Prince of Asturias, and heir to the throne, hated Godoy, as usurping the power which he himself ought to enjoy, and, stimulated by his friends, who shared in his exclusion, appealed to Napoleon for his protection, and to win his favour requested him to choose a wife for him out of his own family. This at one time would have been a subject of the highest pride to Buonaparte, that a member of the Bourbon family, and future King of Spain, should solicit a personal alliance with his; but that day was gone by. Buonaparte had determined to make himself master of Spain, and he left the request of the Prince without any answer. Urged on by his party, the Prince seems to have determined to do without Buonaparte, and to depose his father, but the plot was discovered, and the person of the Prince secured. The imbecile king, instead of contenting himself by the exercise of his own authority, appealed to Napoleon; and at the same time, to make the disgrace of his family as public as possible, he appealed to the Spanish people, by a proclamation against the conduct of his son, and informing them that he had put the Prince under arrest. But the appeal to Buonaparte did not succeed; for his own purposes, the French Emperor appeared to take part with the Prince, and caused his Ambassador, Beauharnais, to remonstrate with the king on his severity towards him. Charles IV. wrote again to Napoleon, and ventured to mention the Prince's private application to him for a wife, hoping, the king said, that the Emperor would not permit the Prince to shelter himself under an alliance with the Imperial family. Buonaparte professed to feel greatly insulted by such allusions to his family, and the poor king then wrote very humbly, declaring that he desired nothing so much as such an alliance for his son. Ferdinand, through this powerful support, was immediately liberated. But these mutual appeals had greatly forwarded Buonaparte's plans of interference in Spain. He levied a new conscription, and avowed to Talleyrand and Fouch that he had determined to set aside the royal family of Spain, and to unite that country to France. Both those astute diplomatists at once disapproved, and endeavoured to dissuade him from the enterprise. They reminded him of the pride of the Spanish character, and that he might rouse the people to a temper of most stubborn resistance, which would divide his attention and his forces, would be pretty certain to bring Britain into the field for their support, and unite Britain again with Russia, thus placing himself between two fires. Talleyrand, seeing that Buonaparte was resolutely bent on the scheme, dropped his opposition, and assisted Napoleon in planning its progress; thus enabling the Emperor afterwards to charge Talleyrand with the responsibility of this usurpation, as he had before charged him with counselling the death of the Duke d'Enghien. In after years, Napoleon used to denounce his own folly in meddling with Spain, calling it "that miserable war" and describing it as the origin of his ruin.