« PreviousContinue »
posed by the minister. This motion was lost; but 99 members voted for it; and the speech of Mr. GREY was well calculated to produce upon the country an impression very little favourable to the Prince, who had had his debts paid by parliament once before, and who was now pretty loudly reminded of that fact by some members sitting on both sides of the House.
37. This former payment of the Prince's debts took place in 1787. The amount was, at that time, very large; and, certainly, with a clear annual allowance of sixty thousand pounds, money enough to maintain 3,000 labourers' families, the nation had a right to complain, when a new clearing off of debts was called for. Nevertheless the new debt, which had arisen, the reader will perceive, in the space of little more than seven years, amounted to the enormous sum of 639,8907. sterling; that is to say, to 80,0001, for every year since the last clearing off of his. debts; and, as will be perceived, to 20,000. a-year more than the whole of his annual allowance. Thus he had been spending at the rate of 140,000l. a-year instead of 60,000l., and had been living on what would have maintained 7,000 labourers' families!
38. The minister, who liked well enough to make this exhibition of the Prince, proposed, as the amount of his new settlement, 125,000l. a year, besides the rents of the Duchy of Cornwall,
valued at 13,000l. a year more. But out of this 138,000l. a year, 73,000l. was to go towards the payment of his debts, and was to be placed, for that purpose, in the hands of commissioners! Thus leaving him 65,000l. a year to live on, a sum not equal to half of that which he had annually expended for seven years before. At the same time an act of parliament was passed "to prevent future princes of Wales from contracting "debts," an act which seemed wholly unneces sary, except for the purpose of conveying, in an indirect way, the censure of the parliament on the conduct of the prince. As to "future princes of Wales," this was, however, an act of flagrant injustice. It was an act to keep them, by law, in a state below that of what the law calls a femme covert, and, indeed, to keep them in a state of infancy; a state little compatible with the sacredness of the person of the party. But, as we shall all along perceive, it has been the constant policy of the aristocracy to prevent the kingly part of the government from being overburdened with popularity or respect.
39. The minister was most vehemently censured for this by the personal friends of the prince, who declared it to be an insult intended and contrived; and this it certainly was. Yet
it was not easy to blame Pitt and his party for their conduct upon this occasion; for how was a minister, after the large sum paid for a similar
purpose, in 1787, again to call upon the nation for an immense sum to pay off the prince's debts, without doing something that should amount to a censure on him by whom those debts had been contracted? The transactions of 1787 had left the prince no justification and no excuse for this new mass of debts. At that time he had had, from the time of his coming of age in 1783, an allowance from the king, out of the civil list, of 50,000l. a year; an allowance enormous, espe cially if we consider the then low price of all household expenses. Nevertheless, it required but four years to involve the prince in debts; a circumstance that reflected less credit on him than the friends of kingly government could have wished to see belong to so distinguished a branch of the royal family; a circumstance, in fact, which in itself, no weak argument in favour of the French, who were contending for a Republican government.
40. It was not, therefore, without some severe animadversions on his conduct, that the House of Commons entertained a proposition to pay off the debts of 1787; and they did not pass the grant, until the king had given them the strongest assurances, that a similar application, for a similar purpose, would never again be made. In his message of the 21st of May, 1787, the king, after expressing his great concern at being under the necessity of acquainting the House of the
extent of the prince's debts, and after observing
41. Upon this message the minister proposed, and the parliament voted, the sum of 161,1097. pay off the debts; a sum perfectly monstrous, if we consider the prices of things at the time, and if we also consider, that it must have been contracted within the short space of about three
years and a half. The nation, however, always foolishly liberal, seems to have been willing to overlook the past, in consequence of the solemn assurances of the prince, conveyed to it under the hand of the king himself, that this should be the last application of the kind.
42. When, therefore, another application of precisely the same kind was to be made, how could any minister advise the king to make it, without accompanying that application with a proposal to do a something in the way of security for the future, and of censure for the past? Accordingly the king recommended and the parliament adopted, in 1795, the appointment of commissioners to superintend the payment of the debts, and the passing of the act before-mentioned.
43. It is easy to conceive how disagreeable it must have been to the prince to have every debt, and the nature of every debt, canvassed before commissioners ! And how very different this was from placing, at once, the 639,8907. at his own disposal. There was a commission to sit for at least nine years, as they were to pay only 73,000l. a year. All this time there must necessarily be a great many discontented creditors, who are by no means the most patient or most friendly of mortals. The prince was a debtor all the while; and, while the nation thought, and truly thought, his allowance very large, he found that what he was receiving was much