Page images
PDF
EPUB

bited the most incredible specimen of monstrous trickery, for the purpose of obtaining office, which the whole history of political tergiversation could afford. Canning immediately stood up and exclaimed, “I rise to say that that is false !" The speaker then interfered, and a motion was made that the sergeant-at-arms should take both the members into custody; but after some discussion it was withdrawn, on their respectively promising the house to think nó more of the matter. They met at the ensuing Eton Montem, and cordially shook hands, says a contemporary writer, in the presence of a thousand admiring spectators.

Canning had, by this time, become deservedly popular, for the spirited and liberal opinions which he had lately professed and most powerfully advocated, as well with regard to foreign as domestic policy. He dissented, pointedly, from the principles of the holy alliance; accelerated, if he did not even produce, the recognition of the republics of Mexico, Columbia, and Buenos Ayres; and insisted on the necessity of aiding Portugal against Spain, with such fervent éloquence, as had rarely, if ever, been heard in parliament, since the setting of those great political luminaries, during whose splendid meridian the dawn of his genius had glimmered.

At the funeral of the Duke of York, in January, 1827, he caught a cold; the consequence of which was a disorder that soon afterwards terminated his existence. Early in March, he delivered a powerful speech in support of catholic emancipation : so intense

anxiety for the fate of the motion, which was lost by a majority of four only, and so great were his exertions on this occasion, that for a short time afterwards, he was rendered incapable, by illness, of reappearing in his place. Mean while, the friends of Lord Liverpool, who had been attacked by paralysis, in May, lost all hopes of his recovery: the premiership consequently became vacant; and on the 12th of April, it was announced in the house of commons, that Canning had been appointed first lord of the treasury: Six members of the Liverpool cabinet immediately afterwards resigned; and a powerful opposition was at once organized against the new minister.

was his

Canning struggled with all his expiring energy, to retain his eminence: he sat out the session; but his disease, which is stated to have been an inflammation of the kidneys, gradually gained upon him; and, at length, on the 8th of August, 1827, he expired in the Duke of Devonshire's house, at Chiswick, after hav ing endured more excruciating tortures, it is said, than the brutality of a horde of American savages, or the refined cruelty of a set of Spanish inquisitors, ever inflicted on any one human body. He was buried at the foot of Pitt's grave, in the north transept of Westminster abbey; and a public subscription, amounting to above 10,000l. was raised for the purpose of erecting a monument to his memory. Subsequently to his decease, Canning's widow was created a viscountess. He left two sons: the eldest a captain in the navy, the other a student at Eton; and one daughter, who was married, in 1825, to the Marquess of Clanricarde.

" Those who knew this highly gifted man,” says Quincy Adams, “testify that his intercourse in private and social life, was as attractive as his public career was brilliant and commanding.” He is described, by other writers, as having been a lover of simplicity'; generous, affable, unpresuming, without ostentation, and accessible to the humblest individual. In his domestic circle, observes a contemporary author, he was almost adored. To his mother and sister, who were entirely dependent for subsistence, as he stated, on his labours, he gave up one half of a pension, which it appears, had been conferred on him when he retired from the office of under secretary of state. To the former his attention was unceasing and extraordinary: during her long residence at Bath, he visited her as often as he possibly could, and devoted a portion of every sabbath to write her á letter.

A contributor to a modern periodical describes Canning's dress as having been plain, but in perfect good taste; his person tall and well-made, his form being moulded between strength and activity; his countenance beaming with intellect, but having a cast of firmness, mingled with a mild, good-natured expression; his head bald as “the first Cæsar's;" his forenead lofty and capacious; his eye reflective, but, at times, lively; and his whole countenance expressive of the kindlier affections, of genius, and of intellectual vigour. In the prime of his life he was decidedly handsome, but latterly, continues the writer, he exhibited marks of what years, care, and ambition had done upon him.

Canning died when at the zenith of his political reputation: he had attained the pinnacle of all his earthly ambition, as well with regard to popularity as place. His early errors were forgotten in admiration at his recent spirited, upright, and manly conduct. No unprejudiced mind could withhold its applause from a minister, whose views were at once so eminently patriotic, and so universally benevolent. In his latter days, he was, with two or three glaring exceptions, the advocate of all that was liberal, enlightened, and conciliating. Had he lived, he would, most probably, have become entitled to the gratitude of the world. No political adventurer ever terminated his career more honourably: no man's principles became more ameliorated by his success. The close of his public life was as much deserving of high approval, as its commencement had merited contempt. In the early stages of his progress towards that erninence which he at length obtained, his conduct was governed by his necessities. He had adopted politics as being a more lucrative profession than the law; and had advocated measures in parliament which he was paid, or encouraged by hopes of future emolument, to support, as he would have defended the causes of those by whom he might have been retained, had he gone to the bar. Circumstances made him a senatorial slave to a powerful party, and for a long period he was compelled to justify measures which he could not afford to oppose. Even after Pitt's decease, with more prudence than virtue, he retained the badge of his political Helotism; and, as his only hope, clung to the principles of the departed premier, as a shipwrecked mariner to the helm of “some talí bark," which, in a subordinate station, he had recently assisted to steer. His struggles secured him that notice which it was his great object to retain. The partizans of Pitt became either his patrons or supporters, and his importance gradually increased. As soon as he could safely throw off the yoke which he had courted, he emancipated himself from thraldom.

The first gleam of his independence occurred on his obtaining a competency by marriage: when he had, in some measure, obtained by his talents the individual influence which he coveted, he became more intrepid : as he rose, his views were proportionably enlarged; and, at length, they became extensive, bold, and philanthropic, as his station was exalted.

His death was, by a large portion of the public, attributed to the severe opposition formed against him on his being called to the premiership. His disease was, doubtless, exasperated by the efforts he made to avoid being ousted by his antagonists; but the foundation of that disease had been previously laid, and with the common cares of his high office, or even in the repose of private life, it is doubtful whether his constitution would have withstood it. Nor was the opposition which he had to encounter at all unprecedented, either in talent, resolution, or political power. In the prime of his health and intellect he would probably have grappled with and overthrown it. Piit, when scarcely a man in years, had defeated an adverse party, which, compared with that arrayed against Canning, was as Ossa to a wart; and Fox, when he last took office with Lord Grenville, found a more bitter political opponent, in Canning himself, than either of those with whom the latter, on becoming prime minister, had to contend. The fate of these two celebrated men was remarkably similar: weak and enfeebled by indisposition, which was aggravated · by the usual consequences of taking high office, Fox, like Canning, rapidly declined, and expired soon after he had obtained that station to which he had most ardently aspired. They died, it has been said, perhaps incorrectly, in the same room, but without a doubt in the same house.

Canning was a stanch advocate for catholic emancipation, and felt more warmly than he expressed himself in favour of the abolition of the slave trade; but to immediate manumission in the colonies he could not be persuaded to agree. While he freely admitted that slavery was repugnant both to the Christian religion, and the spirit of the British constitution, he contended that neither the one nor the other enjoined the necessity of destroying that old iniquity, at the risk of public safety, and the expense of private wrong. He professed that he felt content to retard the introduction of liberty to the colonies, in order that it might at length be ventured upon with less hazard. “British parliaments,” said he, in a debate on this subject, in March, 1816,“ have concurred for years in fostering and aiding that very system which the better feeling of the house now looks upon with horror. How should we deal with such a system? Shall we continue it? No. But having been-all of us--the whole country,-involved in the guilt, and sharers in the profit of it

, we cannot now turn round to a part, and say to them, “You alone shall expiate the crime !'”

His opinions, on two other great questions, he expressed nearly in the following terms, shortly after his elevation to the premiership: “I have been asked

« PreviousContinue »