March 19, 1812: Morning Post on the Maecenas of the Age

On 19 March 1812, the Morning Post published an article that was sycophantic in its praise of the Prince Regent. The Prince was referred to as "the Protector of the Arts’, the ‘Maecenas of the Age’, the ‘Glory of the People’, and an ‘Adonis of Loveliness, attended by Pleasure, Honour, Virtue and Truth’. The article represents a counter-attack by the Tory press, on behalf of the Prince Regent, in response to Whig attacks in the press.  The Whigs had been able to marshal a quite impressive number of poets on their side. These poets included Lord Byron with `Lines to a Weeping Lady`,  Thomas Moore with a `Parody of a Celebrated Letter`and Charles Lamb with the `Triumph of the Whale.` The Morning Post`s article was to draw the most scathing attack on the Prince with the article by Leigh Hunt to be published on March 22, 1812. That article resulted in the prosecution and conviction for libel of the Hunt brothers.
The political conflict surrounding the Prince Regent was reaching a fever pitch on March 19, 1812. On that day there was a lengthy debate in the House of Lords dealing with the Prince Regent`s letter to his brother, the Duke of York, of February 13, 1812. That letter had been meant to be conveyed to Lords Grey and Grenville, the Whig leaders, asking the Whigs to join the Tory government. The Prince anticipated that the Whigs would reject the offer so that he could continue with the Tory government. A unity government was unacceptable to the Whigs because it would mean compromising their positions, including, most fundamentally, their support for Catholic Emancipation. In the House of Lord, Grey basically accused the Prince Regent of having broken his promise with respect to supporting Catholic rights. In his speech, Grey alluded to the "existence of an unseen and separate influence which lurked behind the throne" of an "odious character" that was incompatible with the constitution and the best interests of the country.

I have reproduced below Earl Grey's speech, from the lengthy debate: 
Earl Grey declared that if he were to answer the whole political catechism of the noble lords on the other side, or if he were to make a sort of profession of faith, on all the great subjects which had been introduced or alluded to in the present discussion, the task would be not more disproportionate to his own strength than to the patience of the House. Without however going into all those matters at length, before he sat down, he would advert, as well as he could, to most of the points on which he differed from the members of the present administration, well aware that in such a variety of topics, he had little chance of escaping considerable misrepresentation; for he knew from experience, that say what he would, he could not exempt him-self from having in the course of a few days, and frequently in the course of a few hours, sentiments imputed to him directly opposite to those which he actually delivered. Devoid of all expectation therefore of such a nature, he was simply anxious to state to their lordships what the opinions were, which he entertained on the present question. He did not deny that the motion appeared to him substantially intended to produce a change of administration. The noble lord by whom that motion was brought forward, could have had no other object when he made it. It could be understood in no other sense than an application to the Prince Regent, to remove the present ministers from their situations for the reasons there stated, that such a measure could alone conciliate the different parts of this empire, at a period which more than any other required the full exercise of alt the resources of the country. This, it had been said by the noble and learned lord who spoke last, was a strong measure. That it was a strong measure he would not attempt to deny. But he confessed he had heard with much surprize that night, that this measure was unconstitutional; and that to express the sentiments of the House, with respect to the present ministry, was to interfere with the prerogative possessed by the crown of nominating its ministers. It was certainly no part of the duty of the House either to nominate the ministers of the crown, or to point out the method in which they ought to be nominated. But while he allowed this, he must be of opinion, that if sufficient grounds could be shown why a ministry were unfit to fill the situations which they held, there was nothing in parliamentary precedent to prevent the House from making an application to the crown for the removal of those ministers, when it was thought they were unequal to the crisis. This he would contend was a subject within the cognizance of parliament; and to exercise their powers on such an occasion, was not only a legitimate but a laudable object; it was an endeavour to consolidate all the strength and resources of the empire. The question for the consideration of the House then was, whether the present administration, in its quality and principles, presented obstacles to the union of the strength and resources of all parts of the empire. It might safely be said of this administration, that it was formed on the express principle of resistance to the Catholic claims. This was the principle by which the person who was at the head of that administration made his way to power. This was the principle which led him to make use of all the arts of detraction to attain that object. This principle he loudly proclaimed, from the moment at which he had been called from the bar to take a share in political life up to the present instant. It was his boast—it was put by him in the front of the battle—the eternal exclusion of his Roman Catholic fellow-subjects from any share in the constitution. When he had stated, that such was the principles of that person, he had no need to say more to shew that they were the principles of administration. He was the administration. Whither he led, the rest were obliged to follow.—Was he to be told by the noble and learned lord on the woolsack, who had just stated resistance to the Catholics to be a fundamental principle of the Revolution, that that noble and learned lord differed on this subject from the person at the head of the administration? Did the Secretary of State for the Home Department differ from him? He could hardly think that the person who wished from his heart that Maynooth College had never existed, was hostile to the principle of his leader. Perhaps it might be said that the new addition to their strength differed on this point. Of the noble lord he alluded to (lord Castlereagh) he was unwilling to speak in his absence. He could not, however, forbear saying, that it appeared to him the principles of that noble lord were even very much what he himself described Europe to be, "in an unsatisfactory state." Agreeing to the principle of those who advocated the claims of the Catholics, that noble lord could never see a convenient time for the application of that principle, so that he fully coincided in the practical part of the conduct of his coadjutors. Perhaps it would be said, the noble earl opposite differed on this principle. But as the leading members of the cabinet maintained the necessity of exclusion, and the others blindly followed them in their practice he was warranted in stating the present administration to be founded on a principle of resistance to the Catholic Claims. The noble and learned lord had said, he had never heard of any sermons lately preached on this subject. Where the noble lord bad lived he knew not; but he knew that within these few weeks, persons invested with the sacred character of clergymen, forgetting all the principles of that religion which they professed, instead of preaching the doctrines of peace and unity, which it was their duty to preach, had thought proper to endeavour to inspire one part of the community with hostile feelings against their brethren; and of those persons who acted this most unbecoming part, some were supposed to be seriously connected with the persons who composed the present administration. One of them it appeared, from the Gazette, was lately selected to be one of the chaplains to the Prince Regent—Had he not a right therefore to call the existing cabinet a cabinet of intolerance, preventing that union of common interests and affection, so necessary to the country in her present hour of peril? They had heard that night of broad and narrow administrations; and the noble and learned lord on the woolsack had observed, that nothing was so mischievous as a broad-bottomed administration. With this character he was disposed to concur, if the noble lord meant such a broad and liberal basis as should comprehend persons of the most discordant opinions, who for the sake of coalition, must either sacrifice their own sentiments, or carry dissensions into the cabinet. But the present administration was narrowed to complete unanimity; for if report spoke 76 true of the other secessions to the administration, they would be found possessed of exactly the same character, and very suitable additions to an administration founded on a principle of resistance to the Catholic claims. He saw two noble lords on the cross bench (lords Sidmouth and Buckinghamshire) who were publicly designated as the future supporters of administration. He knew not whether any communication had yet been made to them from the ministry. Who were these noble lords? They were the only lords who, in the late debate on the Catholic claims in that House, ventured to assert the principle of eternal exclusion. One of them came forward with the doctrine of the coronation oath, operating as an eternal exclusion against the Catholics, and the other with perfect consistency had proposed measures which united every class of dissenters in one common cause. Now looking at an administration so formed, was it not, he would ask, an administration which must of necessity be obnoxious to a great part of his Majesty's subjects? The noble and learned lord had told them, that nothing would make him so happy as to extend the benefits of the constitution to all classes of the people, in so far as the same could be done without danger to the state; but, that the fundamental principles of the Revolution stood in the way of all further concession. For his part he denied this to be a fundamental principle of the Revolution. He denied that it was the principle of those great men by whom the Revolution was accomplished. The disabilities against the Catholics were not established for the purpose of guarding the national church against those who professed another system of religion, but for the purpose of withstanding political tenets, by which the constitution was endangered. "The noble and learned lord," exclaimed lord Grey, "calls upon us for securities. We ask him for his danger?" The danger consisted not in admitting the Catholics, but in excluding them from the constitution. Already they were possessed of great riches and great political power, and constituted an important part of the strength of the state. By this exclusion they were forced and united into a separate interest. Take away the exclusion and the motives for a separate interest no longer existing, the hostility to the state would also necessarily cease. But what securities were to be proposed? The noble and learned lord 77 had stated that Mr. Pitt knew of none, Mr. Pitt brought forward this very measure of concession to the Catholics, which he considered as necessary to the safety of the state. Could he propose such a measure, if he thought it would endanger the safety of the slate? But the noble and learned lord had said, that Mr. Pitt had no securities to propose. Then all the conduct of Mr. Pitt was nothing but a pretence; and he did not state the securities because he was unwilling, but because he was unable to do so. The noble and learned lord had spoken in encomiastic terms of the value which he set on Mr. Pitt's friendship, he declared that he wanted no other eulogy on his tomb than that he had been Mr. Pitt's friend; but if this conduct of his to his departed friend was friendship, he would rather, for his part, have that noble and learned lord for his foe, than his friend. Let noble lords put themselves in the situation of the Catholics, and say, what would their feelings be, if they had been treated by the government in the same manner? They had received many concessions, in their very nature such, that they could not stop with them—no philosopher or statesman could think of them but as temporary expedients. The greatest names had deemed ultimate concessions right. Mr. Fox, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Windham, all of them friends to the established church, however much they might differ on other subjects, concurred in this, that conciliation to the Catholics was absolutely necessary. In 1795, when a noble lord (Fitzwilliam) had gone over to Ireland with the power of conceding to the claims of the Catholics, their expectations, thereby excited, were speedily cut short by his sudden recal. He would not enter into a retrospect of the scenes of blood and torture that ensued—scenes even more horrible than those which attended on the French revolution. After this period came the Union, another source of the excitation and disappointment of the hopes of this body. By whose means was that Union obtained? By the support of the Catholics. By a too ready confidence the Catholics of Ireland did then come forward and support that Union which without their assistance could never have been carried. Their disappointment must now be aggravated by the feeling, that if not foolishly duped, their wishes might already have been granted. If the House, like the Catholics, had supported the Union, under the hopes of attaining the cession of their right through the calmer discussions of the United Parliament, what would they think of the government which imposed an everlasting bar against their approaches? They could not wonder if great disturbances were the consequences, and if from affectionate subjects they should come to look on this country with ill-will and hatred. In what respect was the situation of the Catholics now hopeless? He did not wish to name the Prince Regent for the purpose of influencing the debate. He would not state what the feelings and opinions of his Royal Highness might be at the present moment, having only the opinion of his responsible advisers to look to. But he could not help stating, that a very general hope was entertained by the Catholics, that the Prince Regent was favourable to their claims, and that a new æra would by the course of nature arrive when bigotry and oppression should no longer oppose them. That new æra had now arrived; but instead of its being to the Catholics a consummation of their hopes, they saw the whole power of the government embodied against them, under some cursed and baleful influence; and nothing remaining to them but a prospect of perpetual exclusion from the benefits of the constitution. If the House believed the Irish to be what they had ever been represented, a brave, a warm-hearted, a sanguine, a high-spirited people—if they believed them to have contributed largely to the military glory of this empire, the dangerous effects which such a disappointment might produce, would be formidable in the same proportion. We might anticipate dangers greater than any which, this country had yet struggled with. A noble lord (Harrowby) had asked, if it was not mockery and insult to address the Prince to form a combined administration, after the correspondence which had been so much referred to? But in this a noble and learned lord had corrected him, and justly defined that it was not for a broader administration, but for one avoiding the character of the present, and calculated to ensure the affections of the people. It might be as narrow as the present, and as exclusive; but as it would exclude only those dangerous principles which went to disunite and distract the country, it would be preferable to that now in being. Those who were friendly to the Catholics would, of course, be more acceptable to that body. The noble and learned lord had boasted that the present administration possessed the affections of the people of England. Undoubtedly popularity was dear to him; but he had never endeavoured to court popularity by a departure from any one principle of which he approved, whatever obloquy might be the consequence. He supposed the meaning of the noble and learned lord was, that the present administration was supported by the opinion of the majority of the people of England on the Catholic question. Of that he was very much inclined to doubt. He was aware, however, that the person at the head of the government might again employ all kinds of arts to inflame the people with imaginary dangers, aided as he might probably be with all the power of the church. But what would be the consequence of his success? To aggravate the evil and increase the danger—to make the Catholics perceive that it was no longer a set of men whom they had to consider as their enemies, but the people of England and what could be the result but the separation of the two countries?—Who would be able to repair the breaches of an administration powerful in all the means by which empires were hurried on to ruin? He believed, however, that the people of England were, as they had been at a former period, ready to support the measure of Catholic emancipation. That question would once have been carried with as little difficulty as any matter ever proposed to Parliament, but now the cry was raised against it by those who, with equal guilt, had first instilled into the royal mind those scruples of which they afterwards took advantage; for all which a deep and heavy responsibility rested upon their heads.—The noble lord had inquired, if the present administration were displaced, where would they get another? In the Letter subscribed by his noble friend and himself, they had stated, that they could not join with men united together on the principle of Catholic exclusion, and could not come into power without advising to give relief to the Catholics. But might they not unite with such as held similar opinions with them on this point?—When he signed the Letter, he was most sincere in saying, he did not act on personal exclusive principles; for he might perhaps be permitted to say this of himself, that, however much he had mixed in political controversy, he was little subject to political resentments. When an union could be honourable, and advantageous to the nation, he would ever be ready to unite. But character was as much the strength of men as it was that of a nation, and he could conceive nothing more dangerous than to shock the public opinion by an appearance of sacrificing principle for the sake of attaining office and emolument; for himself he disclaimed any such views, or any great desire for place at all. But did the noble lords opposite—they who were the advisers of the Regent on this occasion—who were his ministers before, and had continued to be his ministers since; did they expect, that in consequence of the Regent's Letter his noble friend and himself could have consented to coalesce with them?—Would they venture to deny, that they were consulted on the Letter? If so, it would establish the point, that there was an influence behind the throne, the most dangerous that could exist. Nay, he would put the question in another form, and suppose he and his friends had been in power, and had sent such a Letter to the noble lords opposite, would they have acceded to the offer? He believed they would not. But were there no others with whom they (lord Grey and his friends) could unite? or, if both parties were put out of the question, were there not others to form an administration without them? If the address could be carried, and the Regent could find others of whom he might form a cabinet, holding the same opinions on the Catholic question with himself (lord Grey), they should have his warm support; and on any points in which he might differ from them, his opposition should be reluctant and gentle. He was too much exhausted to go through the remaining topics at any length. On the repeal of the civil disabilities of the Catholics, therefore, he would only briefly state, that he was prepared to define what securities he deemed sufficient en this score to satisfy him. Adverting to the questions at issue between this country and America, he observed that this important subject had been so ably treated by his noble and learned friend, as in a great measure to relieve him from the necessity of adding any thing further. He would, however, embrace the occasion of saying, that if it was imputed to him that he was disposed to give up one single right, or to abandon any principle connected with the maintenance of our essential maritime interests, the imputation was most false and groundless. His feelings in support of those interests, would lead him to go as far as any man, although he should still deem it necessary to weigh the true value of those disputed interests, and to guard against making a sacrifice disproportionate to the object to be attained. If once persuaded that the national honour was at stake, or that those rights on which our national independence was founded, were attacked, he should feel no difficulty to act with all the directness, and vigour, and determination, which, under such circumstances, would be indispensible to our safety. But he could never lose sight of that principle which ought to lie at the basis of all national policy, namely, that, as it had been well expressed by Mr. Burke, "as we ought never to go to war for a profitable wrong, so we ought never to go to war for an unprofitable right." If the prosecution of the right were likely to lead to consequences more dangerous and destructive than those anticipated from its relinquishment, it was almost superfluous to say, such a right ought not to be insisted on. He well remembered, that during an opposition carried on with something more than parliamentary virulence and pertinacity, while he had the honour of holding an office in administration, he was often pressed in the other House to assume a different tone, and to act upon what was called a more decisive policy. He had then employed, as an illustration in defence of his own doctrine, the fable of the man who threw cocoa nuts at the monkey in the hopes that the monkey would throw cocoa nuts at him; because he believed that the object of Buonaparté was to embroil us with America, for the furtherance of his own purposes. A new System had, in his opinion unhappily for this country, enabled the enemy to succeed in his incitements; to triumph in his policy, and to make us the instruments of his ambition. Upon the subject of the State of circulation, interesting as it was, and decisive as his views were upon it, did it follow that he held it to be indispensible to recommend immediately the resumption of cash payments by the Bank? It was not to the omission of that particular measure that his principal objections were directed, but to a perseverance in a system not founded upon just principles, and which therefore the longer it continued became the more menacing and calamitous in its operation. His wish was to revert as mach as possible to true prince- 82 ples, and keep the circulating medium within certain bounds. Supposing, then, the Catholic question decided, an impassable line of separation existed between him and the present administration, in the proposition for making Bank-notes a legal tender. With respect to the policy which the circumstances of the present crisis demanded to be maintained in the affairs of the peninsula, he certainly was not prepared to say that it was expedient to recall our troops immediately home; but he certainly did not wish to proceed on that expensive mode of warfare, without having some military authority as to the probable result of it; and he wished, above all, to see the opinion of the illustrious commander of the forces in that country on the subject. No part of national policy was more open to repeated discussion, or more calculated to engender a diversity of opinion, than the most proper mode of carrying on foreign warfare. The first principle in the policy of all wars was to inflict the utmost possible injury on the enemy, at the expence of the least possible injury to ourselves. Such a question, therefore, as that which related to the I continuance of the present contest in the peninsula, depended on a variety of considerations, arising out of recent events and the consequent and relative situations of ourselves and of the enemy. In determining on the expediency of any mea-I sure of this nature, he was to be guided by calculations formed on an extensive combination and comparison of circumstances. He thought, and thought most decidedly, that a reduction of our expenditure was called for by reflections of the most urgent and powerful kind; and he would feel it to be his duty, before he could agree to the continuance of any continental enterprises like those in which we were now engaged, to take a wide survey of our own resources, to measure their extent, and the means of their application to the objects for the attainment or promotion of which they were proposed to be exerted. If the result of such an estimate were to establish any thing like a certainty of success in the schemes, that were devised, all his hesitations and difficulties would be removed, and he should consider even the most extensive scale of foreign operations as recommended and supported by the principles of œconomy itself. He hoped too that he felt as warmly, and was as willing to acknowledge that feeling as any noble lord, the 83 justice of that cause which we were maintaining in the peninsula. No cause related in the annals of mankind ever rested more entirely on sentiments of the most honourable feeling, or was more connected, if circumstances were favourable, with principles of national advantage. The spectacle exhibited was the most interesting that could engage the simpathies or the attention of the world, and it was impossible not to wish to afford assistance to the noble struggle of a free people against the most unparalleled treachery, the most atrocious violence that ever stained or degraded the ambition of despotic power. If he could but calculate on the probability of supporting such a cause to a triumphant issue, there could remain no doubt but that the separation from France of such a country as Spain, containing her extent of territory and amount of population, would be to augment in a great degree our own national security. But those principles, on which the prosecution of that war could be defended, must be reduced to a mere speculative theory, unless supported by adequate exertions from the Spanish people and the Spanish government; without that necessary co-operation all our efforts must prove useless. With a view to those advantages, we had unsuccessfully before contended in that very country against France, then much less powerful than at present. He did not mean to say that, from these considerations, we were to withdraw our armies from the peninsula; but he thought that, before we proceeded further on the present expensive system, the House should have the distinct opinion of the Commander-in-Chief, as to the probable result of the operations, and enquire into the means of carrying on the contest by a more limited expenditure of our remaining resources. It would be his maxim to guard against endangering our own safety in the prosecution of remoter interests. These were his principles and his opinions; he had stated them distinctly, however assured at the same time, that he should to-morrow see them completely misrepresented in the newspapers. He was desious of adding a few words upon what had fallen from the noble lord who moved the amendment, respecting what he was pleased to call the complete success of our arms, during the last two years. For his own part, when he looked back to the events of that period, when he recollected the original objects of the war, and knew, 84 as every other man knew, that the defence of Portugal must be impracticable after Spain should be entirely subdued, he could coincide in no such declaration. We had, unquestionably, achieved much; and in the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo he concurred in the admiration justly due to the vigour, celerity, and military skill so eminently displayed by the great commander who conducted that important enterprize. But when he looked to another part of that kingdom, and saw Badajoz in possession of the enemy—when he turned his attention to the operations in Catalonia—when he saw that, within the last two years, Tortosa, Lerida, Tarragona, Saguntum had yielded—that Valencia had fallen—that the province of Murcia was over-run—he was at a loss to discover what new prospects of success had dawned upon the Spaniards. Those conquests opened to the enemy a free communication between all their divisions; and they would soon be enabled by that circumstance to bring the whole weight of their united forces against the British. He did think too that ministers had been culpably negligent, in not having exerted, in the quarter to which he had just adverted, the means actually in their power, by employing a considerable naval force, for the purpose of lending our allies more effectual succour. In Catalonia for instance, such a system, if properly conducted, would, in all probability, have enabled the warlike population of that province to expel their invaders. Where then were the symptoms of this boasted success? Lord Wellington, at the head of an army of 62,000 as effective men as were ever led into the field, had been compelled to remain on the defensive. With a force greater than that commanded by the duke of Marlborough at the most splendid æra of our military history, lord Wellington had found himself limited to the pursuit of a defensive system. The country had been told, indeed, to look at the exertions of the Spanish Guerillas for a substitute to the assistance of regular troops, in which the natives of the peninsula were so deficient. On this he founded no great hopes, yet he was not able, from want of sufficient documents, to Slate precisely the weight which their assistance might have in the scale. But, momentous as all those objections were, in his opinion, against the present system of government, they sunk into insignificancy, when compared with one point on which he had to make a few observations; a point in his estimation of paramount importance. He alluded to the existence of an unseen and separate influence which lurked behind the throne. An influence of this kind had too long prevailed, not less incompatible with the constitution, than with the best interests of the country. An influence of this odious character, leading to consequences the most pestilent and disgusting, it would be the duty of parliament to brand by some signal mark of condemnation. It was his rooted and unalterable principle, a principle in which those with whom he had the honour to act fully participated, not to accept of office without coming to an understanding with parliament for the abolition of this destructive influence; which consolidated abuses into a system, and by preventing complaints from reaching the royal ear, barred all hopes of a redress of grievances. Holding these views and sentiments, he had thought it his duly to submit them to the House, and however various might be the opinions entertained of them, he had at least to congratulate himself on his own self-approbation. He had, however, the pride and satisfaction of reflecting that he still continued to enjoy the esteem of those friends for whom he felt the most sincere respect. All the arts and intrigue that had been attempted, in order to seduce many of those who had previously concurred with him on most of the great public questions of the day, had failed, except in one solitary instance, and that was scarcely worth notice. He trusted he had sufficiently explained the reasons by which he had been induced to sign the Letter so frequently alluded to in the course of the debate; and with respect to his noble coadjutor in that proceeding, he must say of him, that the sentiments which that Letter conveyed, were in strict conformity to the whole tenour of his noble friend's political life.

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