Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

then ordered Black Rod to call before them the High Bailiff of Westminster, who informed them that he bad received no communication from the Secretary of State; but, attracted by “the disturbance”—a wide euphemism, surely, for a formidable riot !-had done his utmost to restore tranquillity. As yet he had been able to collect only six constables, who were quietly waiting in the Guildhall until more could be assembled, as no good could be done with such a handful.

It cannot be said that the High Bailiff's speech was encouraging; and the Peers, greatly dismayed, insisted on the adjournment of the House. Thereafter the Assembly gradually thinned, most of the Lords having either retired to the coffee-houses or gone off in hackney-carriages; while others had slunk home under cover of the growing darkness. Thus it came to pass that Lord Mausfield, in his seventy-sixth year, was left alone and unprotected, except by the officers of the House and his own servants. There seems to have been a strange want of chivalry in this desertion of the venerable Chief Justice; but, on the other hand, his remaining to the last may have been a piece of unnecessary Quixotism.

Next day (June 7th), the insurrection, unchecked by any display of energy and decision on the part of the authorities, assumed more alarming proportions. Newgate and the other metropolitan prisons were broken open, and their inmates released. The Inns of Court were besieged, and preparations made for attacking the Bank. Having sacked the houses of three of the London magistrates, the infuriated populace rolled towards Lord Mansfield's mansion in Bloomsbury Square. Apprehending an attack, Lord Mansfield had sent for Sir John Hawkins, who arrived with a party of constables, and advised that the military should immediately be summoned. Contrary to Sir John's recommendation, Lord Mansfield insisted that the soldiers should be stationed, not in his house, but in the neighbouring church of St. George's—from a fear, perhaps, that the sight of the red coats might further inflame the temper of the rioters. Scarcely had his order been obeyed before the mob poured into the square, carrying torches and other combustibles, and filling the air with their yells and drunken shouts. When they began to beat at the outer door, Lord Mansfield and his wife retreated by a back passage.

The work of destruction went on apace, and before morning there was nothing left of the stately structure but the blackened and mouldering outer walls. The whole of Lord Mansfield's valuable library of printed books and manuscripts, his private papers and correspondence, his pictures, plate, furniture,—all were consumed. The rioters, to prove their disinterestedness, flung into the flames a costly tankard of silver, filled with guineas.

We take from Sir Nathaniel Wroxall's Memoirs a graphic account of his experiences of this memorable scene :

“About nine o'clock,” he says, “accompanied by three other gentlemen-who, as well as myself, were alarmed at the accounts brought in every moment of the outrages committed, and of the still greater acts of violence meditated as soon as darkness should favour and facilitate their further progress-we set out, ... and drove to Bloomsbury Square, attracted to that spot by a rumour, generally spread, that Lord Mansfield's residence, situate at the north-east comer, was either already burnt or destined for destruction. Hart Street and Great Russell Street presented each to the view as we passed large fires, composed of furniture taken from the houses of magistrates or other obnoxious individuals. Quitting the coach, we crossed the square, and had scarcely got under the wall of Bedford House when we heard the door of Lord Mansfield's house burst open with violence. In a few minutes all the contents of the apartments, being precipitated from the windows, were piled up and wrapt in flames. A file of foot-soldiers arriving, drew up near the blazing pile, but without either attempting to quench the fire or to impede the mob, who were, indeed, far too numerous to admit of their being dispersed, or even intimidated, by a small detachment of infantry. The populace remained masters; while we, after surveying the spectacle for a short time, moved into Holborn.”

Lord Mansfield afterwards regretted, and with just reason, that he had not met the attack of the multitude with a greater display of vigour. Erskine tells us that he more than once heard him say that perhaps some blame might attach to himself and others in authority for their forbearance in not directing force to be at the first moment repelled by force : it is the highest humanity to check the infancy of tumults.

The loss which he had sustained in the destruction of his library was irreparable. The loss of furniture and plate might have been repaired; indeed, the House of Commons authorised the payment of adequate compensation, but with lofty generosity he declined it. Nothing could give back to him his valuable MSS., or the books enriched with the autographs of Pope, Swift, Bolingbroke, and the brightest luminaries of the age. All he could do was to summon to his aid the fortitude of a Christian. Perhaps the sympathy which the poet Cowper expressed in some graceful stanzas afforded him as much consolation as, in the circumstances, it was possible for him to receive :

“So then the Vandals of our isle,

Sworn foes to men and law,
Have burnt to dust a nobler pile

Than ever Roman saw.

“Lord Murray sighs o'er Pope and Swift,

And many a treasure more,
The well-judged purchase and the gift

That graced his lettered store .

“Their pages mangled, burnt, and torn,

Their loss was his alone :
But ages yet to come shall mourn

The burning of his own.*

“When wit and genius meet their doom

In all-devouring flame,
They tell us of the fate of Rome,

And bid us fear the same.

“O’er Murray's loss the Muses wept;

They felt the rude alarm ;
Yet blessed the guardian care that kept

His sacred head from harm.

“ There memory, like the bee that's fed

From Flora's balmy store,
The quintessence of all he read
Had treasured

up

before.

“ The lawless herd, with fury blind,

Have done him cruel wrong:
The flowers are gone ; but still we find

The honey on his tongue.”

On the trial of Lord George Gordon for the share which that mad fanatic had in the outbreak, Erskine, in the eloquent speech he delivered for the defence,

* An allusion to several essays, judicial and historical, which he had prepared for posthumous publication.

alluded very gracefully to the destruction of Lord Mansfield's house, and deduced from it an argument in favour of his client:

“Can any man living believe,” he exclaimed, “that Lord George Gordon could possibly have excited the mob to destroy the house of that great and venerable magistrate, who has presided so long in this great and high tribunal that the oldest of us do not remember him with any other impression than the awful form and figure of justice; a magistrate who had always been the friend of the Protestant Dissenters against the ill-timed jealousies of the Establishment;-his countryman, too; and, without adverting to the partiality not unjustly imputed to men of that country, a man of whom any country might be proud ? No, gentlemen, it is not credible that a man of noble birth and liberal education (unless agitated by the most implacable personal resentment, which is not imputed to the prisoner) could possibly consent to this burning of the house of Lord Mansfield.” *

During the administrations of the Marquis of Rockingham and Lord Shelbourne, the aged Chief Justice took no part in political warfare, and gradually ceased to intervene in the debates. When he did speak, his speeches were scarcely worthy of his reputation. Apparently, advancing years increased his constitutional timidity, so that in most of the measures brought before Parliament, his nervous disposition detected the germs of future evil. This was specially apparent in the last speech which he addressed to the House. He was opposed to the administration formed by the younger Pitt, and when a motion was introduced in the Upper Chamber which tended to give it an indirect support, he met it with an uncompromising negative, while enunciating

* Lord Erskine, “Speeches," i. 112.

P

« AnteriorContinuar »