Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 59.djvu/204

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colleagues, Newcastle and Hardwicke, and indeed the entire nation. He consented to a despatch instructing Keene, the English plenipotentiary, to demand the surrender of the right of search. Spain refused; and on 19 Oct., amid a burst of popular enthusiasm, war was declared. ‘They now ring the bells,’ said Walpole bitterly; ‘they will soon wring their hands.’ It has been observed by Burke that Walpole's conduct was stamped with weakness, that ‘he temporised, he managed, and, adopting very nearly the sentiments of his adversaries, he opposed their inferences’ (‘First Letter on a Regicide Peace,’ Works, v. 288). But Walpole was the prey of two harassing diseases, gout and the stone, which left him but intermittent vigour and disturbed the balance of his naturally placid temper. ‘And all agree Sir Robert cannot live,’ wrote Pope in 1740 (Works, iii. 497). He might, it is said, have resigned. As a matter of fact he did twice tender his resignation, but was appealed to by the king ‘not to desert him in his greatest difficulties’ (Coxe, i. 625). And behind resignation loomed impeachment, which, in the popular fury against the sole advocate of peace, was certain. He lost his hold alike of parliament, where nobody believed he could stand another session (Marchmont Papers, ii. 113), and of the cabinet, where Newcastle, whose ‘name is “Perfidy,”’ as he justly said, was intriguing for his place. One rebuff followed another. In November 1739 Pulteney, in the face of his opposition, carried a bill ‘for the encouragement of seamen’ (13 Geo. II, c. 3). Against the place bill, limiting the number of officials in the House of Commons, his majority, which had been thirty-nine in 1734, sank to sixteen in 1739. In the lords the bishops were wavering in favour of the prospective dispensers of patronage (Pulteney to Swift, Swift, Works, iii. 120). His altercations with Newcastle were incessant. ‘The war is yours,’ he exclaimed; ‘you have had the conduct of it—I wish you joy of it.’ But a rupture with the greatest borough-monger in England would have ruined him, for Scotland was all but lost when, in March 1740, Argyll went over to the opposition (Stair Annals, ii. 260). During an extraordinary series of years, from 1715 to 1740, with two slight exceptions in 1727 and 1728, there had been abundant harvests (Tooke, Hist. of Prices, i. 43). The winter of 1739–40 was one of long and severe frost and of consequent distress. Bread rose in price, riots followed, and of all this Walpole bore the odium.

By the death of the emperor Charles VI in October 1740 foreign affairs, of which Walpole still retained the direction, increased in complication. After a successful invasion of Silesia, Frederick the Great signed a treaty with France in June 1741. The queen of Hungary had called upon England to enforce its guarantee of the pragmatic sanction. Again Walpole was for peace; the king and the cabinet for intervention. Again Walpole had to give way. On 8 April 1741 the king's speech invited parliament to support him in the maintenance of the pragmatic sanction, and 300,000l. was voted as a subsidy to the queen of Hungary. In May the king, despite Walpole's remonstrances, went over to Hanover to organise the defence of the electorate. On 28 Oct., without consulting Walpole, he hastily concluded a treaty with France, pledging Hanover to neutrality for a year, and leaving England to confront the storm alone. As in the war with Spain, so in this, upon the minister who had from the first opposed fell the opprobrium of the misconduct.

In view of the approaching expiration of parliament, the opposition determined early in 1741 to place their case before the country by a motion for an address to the king for the removal of Walpole. On 13 Feb. the motion was introduced by Sandys, with a long review of the minister's policy both in home and foreign affairs. But the death of Sir W. Wyndham (17 June 1740) had dissolved the bond between the tories and their whig allies. It is just to say too that there were tories who objected on principle to trying a minister upon general allegations. It was urged against Walpole that he had made himself ‘sole and prime minister,’ an unconstitutional invasion of the responsibilities of his colleagues justifying the imputation to him exclusively of the difficulties in which the nation was placed (see Protest of the Lords, 13 Feb. 1741). It was a serious accusation at that epoch of constitutional development, for his accusers likened him to Strafford. In a defence of consummate ability Walpole repudiated the charge, but declared himself accountable for the conduct of the ministry. An extraordinary effect was produced by a short speech against the motion by Edward Harley, nephew to the minister whom Walpole himself had impeached. He was followed by ‘the country gentlemen to a man’ (Nugent, Memoirs, p. 94). To the general amazement, Shippen, followed by thirty-four Jacobites, walked out of the house, and the threatened minister found himself in a majority of 290 to 106 votes. On the same day Carteret made the same motion in the House of Lords, and was defeated by