Page:Lectures on Modern History.djvu/298
LECTURES ON MODERN HISTORY
Walpole gave way in the affair of the Halfpence, that he might not alienate those through whom he governed Ireland. The coins were good. They were to contain twice the value of metal with which we are satisfied, and it was never shown that they did not. The gains of the contractor were exorbitant. He was able to pay a heavy fee to the Duchess of Kendal; and when the contract
peerage. He was not prepared to sacrifice a legitimate species of patronage. He came back, thereupon, to office, but not to a principal office; and he was not a member of the Cabinet when the South Sea Company undertook to reduce the National Debt. They offered only eight and a half years' purchase; but the spirit of speculation was strong, and these bad terms were widely accepted. The shares of the Company rose from 130 to 1000. As there was so much capital seeking investment, rival enterprises were started, and were opposed by the South Sea Company. Their ruin destroyed its credit; and after large sums had been won, large sums were lost. Some had been impoverished, others enriched. The country had not suffered, but the ministry fell. Walpole inherited their power. The ground was cleared for his long administration. It lasted so long that he did more than any other man to establish the new system of government. He was more zealous to retain his power than to make heroic use of it, and was a good administrator but an indifferent legislator. In his time those things were best which were done outside of parliament. Walpole made it his business to yield to public opinion, and did it consistently in the three critical moments of his career—in Wood's Halfpence, in the Excise, and in the Spanish war. The same problem presented itself to a greater man in the present century, and was decided on the opposite principle. Guizot was himself persuaded that a measure of parliamentary reform was inevitable, since the opinion of the country was in its favour. But the opinion of parliament was against it, and he preferred to fall, together with the monarchy, in obedience to parliament, rather than to triumph by public opinion.