THE PRINCE ON ST. PATRICK'S DAY
by Leigh Hunt
Note: For publishing this, Leigh Hunt and his brother John were sentenced to two years in prison. See http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng561.htm
THE PRINCE REGENT is still in everybody's mouth, and unless he is insensible to biting as to bantering, a delicious time he has of it in that remorseless ubiquity! If a person takes in a newspaper, the first thing he does, when he looks at it, is to give the old groan and say, "Well,—what of the PRINCE REGENT now!" If he goes out after breakfast, the first friend he meets is sure to begin talking about the PRINCE REGENT:—and the two always separate with a shrug. He who is lounging along the street, will take your arm and turn back with you to expatiate on the PRINCE REGENT; and he in a hurry, who is skimming the other side of the way, halloes out as he goes, "Fine doings these, of the PRINCE REGENT!" You can scarcely pass by two people walking together, but you shall hear the word "PRINCE REGENT";—"if the PRINCE REGENT has done that, he must be—," or such as "the PRINCE REGENT and Lord YAR—:"—the rest escapes in the distance. At dinner the PRINCE REGENT quite eclipses the goose or the calf 's-head: the tea-table, of course, rings of the PRINCE REGENT: if the company go to the theatre to see the Hypocrite, or the new farce of Turn Out, they cannot help thinking of the PRINCE REGENT; and as Dean SWIFT extracted philosophical meditation from a broomstick, so it would not be surprising if any serious person in going to bed should find in his very nightcap something to remind him of the merits of the PRINCE REGENT. In short, there is no other subject but one that can at all pretend to a place in the attention of our countrymen, and that is their old topic the weather; their whole sympathies are at present divided between the PRINCE REGENT and the barometer;—
Nocte pluit tota: redeunt
Divisum imperium est cum JOVE CAESAR habet
("It rained all night; the day was fine for the Games; Caesar and Jove divide the rule" [Caesar rules on Earth, Jove in Heaven])
night the weeping tempests blow;
All day our state surpasseth show;
Doubtless a blessed empire share
The PRINCE OF WALES and PRINCE OF AIR.
But the Ministerial journalists, and other creatures of Government, will tell you, that there is nothing in all this; or rather they will insist that it is to be taken in a good sense, and that the universal talk respecting the PRINCE REGENT is highly to his advantage: for it is to be remarked, that these gentleman have a pleasant way of proving to us that we have neither eyes nor ears, and would willingly persuade us in time, that to call a man an idiot or a profligate is subscribing to his wisdom and virtue;—a logic, by the bye, which enables us to discover how it is they turn their own reputation to account, and contrive to have so good an opinion of themselves. Thus whenever they perceive an obnoxious sensation excited among the people by particular measures, they always affect to confine it to the organs by which it is expressed, and to cry out against, what they are pleased to term "a few factious individuals," who are represented as a crafty set of fellows, that get their living by contradicting and disgusting everybody else!—How such a trade can be thriving, we are not informed: it it is certainly a very different one from their own, which, however it may disgust other people, succeeds by echoing and flattering the opinions of men in power. It is in vain that you refer them to human nature and to the opinions that are naturally created by profligate rulers; they are not acquainted with human nature, and still less with any such rulers:—it is in vain that you refer them to companies in which impartial and independent men are accustomed to meet;—they know no such companies:—it is in vain that you refer them to popular meetings, to common halls, and to political dinners;—they call the popular meetings unpopular, and can bring counter-dinners and common halls of their own. Be it so then—let us compound with them, and agree to consider all direct political meetings as party assemblages, particularly those of the Reformists, who, whatever room they may occupy on the occasion, and whatever advocates they may possess from one end of the kingdom to the other, shall be nothing but a few factious individuals, as contemptible for their numbers and public effect as for their bad writing and worse principles. Nay, let us even resort on this occasion to persons, who having but one great political object, unconnected with the abstract merits of party, persisted for so many years in expressing an ardent and hopeful attachment to the PRINCE REGENT and in positively shutting their eyes to such parts of his character as might have shaken their dependence upon him, looking only to his succession in the government as the day of their country's happiness, and caring not who should surround his throne provided he would only be true to his own word. An assembly of such persons,—such at least was their composition for the much greater part,—met the other day at the Freemasons' Tavern to celebrate the Irish Anniversary of Saint Patrick; and I shall proceed to extract from the Morning Chronicle such passages of what passed on the occasion as apply to his ROYAL HIGHNESS, in order that the reader may see at once what is now thought of him, not by Whigs or Pittites, or any other party of the state, but by the fondest and most trusting of his fellow-subjects,—by those whose hearts have danced at his name—who have caught from it inspiration to their poetry, patience to their afflictions, and hope to their patriotism—
"The Anniversary of this day—a day always precious in the estimation of an Irishman, was celebrated yesterday at the Freemasons' Tavern, by a numerous and highly respectable assemblage of individuals. The Marquis of LANSDOWN presided at the meeting, supported by the Marquis of DOWNSHIRE, the Earl of MOIRA, Mr. SHERIDAN, the LORD MAYOR, Mr. Sheriff HEYGATE, &c. &c. When the cloth was removed, Non nobis Domine was sung, after which the Marquis of LANSDOWN, premising that the meeting was assembled for purposes of charity rather than of party or political feeling, gave the Health of the King, which was drunk with enthusiastic and rapturous applause. This was followed by God save the King, and then the noble Marquis gave 'The Health of the Prince Regent,' which was drunk with partial applause and loud and reiterated hisses. The next toast, which called forth great and continued applause, lasting early five minutes, was 'The Navy and Army.'"
The interests of the Charity were then considered, and after a procession of the children (a sight worth all the gaudiness and hollow flourish of military and courtly pomps) a very handsome collection was made from the persons present. Upon this, the toasts were resumed; and "Lord MOIRA'S health being drunk with loud and reiterated cheering," his Lordship made a speech in which not a word was uttered of the Prince Regent.—Here let the reader pause a moment, and consider what a quantity of meaning must be wrapped up in the silence of such a man with regard to his old companion and PRINCE. Lord MOIRA universally bears the character of a man who is generous to a fault; he is even said to be almost unacquainted with the language of denial or rebuke, and if this part of his character has been injurious to him, it has at least, with his past and his present experience, helped him to a thorough knowledge of the PRINCE'S character. Yet this nobleman, so generous, so kindly affectioned, so well experienced,—even he has nothing to say in favour of his old acquaintance. The PRINCE has had obligations from him, and therefore his Lordship feels himself bound in gentlemanly feeling to say nothing in his disparagement; and in spite of the additional tenderness which that very circumstance would give him for the better side of his ROYAL HIGHNESS'S character, he feels himself bound in honesty to say nothing in his praise,—not a word—not a syllable! No more need be observed on this point.—His Lordship concluded with proposing the health of the Marquis of LANSDOWNE, who upon receiving the applauses of the company expressed himself "deeply sensible of such an honour, coming from men whose national character it was to be generously warm in their praise, but not more generously warm than faithfully sincere." This elegant compliment was justly received, and told more perhaps than everybody imagined; for those who are "faithfully sincere" in their praise are apt to be equally so in their censure, and thus the hisses bestowed were put on an equal footing of sincerity with the applauses. The healths of the Vice-presidents was then given, and after a short speech from Lord MOUNTJOY, and much anticipating clamour with "Mr. SHERIDAN'S health," "Mr. SHERIDAN at length arose, and in a low tone of voice returned his thanks for the honourable notice by which so large a meeting of his countrymen thought proper to distinguish him. (Applauses) He had ever been proud of Ireland, and hoped that his country might never have cause to be ashamed of him. (Applauses) Ireland never forgot those who did all they could do, however little that might be, in behalf of her best interests. All allusion to politics had been industriously deprecated by their noble chairman.—He was aware that charity was the immediate object of their meeting; but standing as he did before an assembly of his countrymen, he could not affect to disguise his conviction that at the present crisis Ireland involved in itself every consideration dear to the best interests of the Empire, (hear, hear) It was, therefore, that he was must anxious that nothing should transpire in that meeting calculated to injure those great objects, or to visit with undeserved censure the conduct of persons whose love to Ireland was as cordial and zealous as it ever had been. He confessed frankly that knowing as he did the unaltered and unalterable sentiments of an ILLUSTRIOUS PERSONAGE towards Ireland, he could not conceal from the meeting that he had felt considerably shocked at the sulky coldness and surly discontent with which they had on that evening drank the health of the PRINCE REGENT. (Here, we were sorry to observe that Mr. S. was interrupted by no very equivocal symptoms of disapprobation)—When silence was somewhat restored, Mr. SHERIDAN said, that he knew the Prime Regent well—(hisses)—he knew his principles—(hisses)—they would at least, he hoped, give him credit for believing that he knew them, when he said he did—(Applause.)—He repeated, that he knew well the principles of the PRINCE REGENT, and that so well satisfied was he that they were all that Ireland could wish, that he (Mr. SHERIDAN) hoped, that as he had lived up to them, so he might die in the principles of the PRINCE REGENT—(hisses and applauses.)—He should be sorry personally to have merited their disapprobation (general applause, with cries of "Change the subject and speak out.")—he could only assure them, that the PRINCE REGENT remained unchangeably true to those principles. (Here the clamours became so loud and general that we could collect nothing more.)"
Although the company however refused to give a quiet hearing to Mr. SHERIDAN while he talked in this manner, yet the moment he sat down, they rose up, it seems, and as a mark that they were not personally offended, gave him a general clap:—the Chronicle says, "it was to mark their peculiar respect, and esteem for him;" and as the rest of the above report is taken from that paper it is fit that this encomiastic assertion should accompany it; but however the reporter might choose to interpret the applause, there appears to be no reason for giving it a livelier construction than the one before-mentioned. We know well enough what the Irish think of Mr. SHERIDAN. They believe he has been, and is, their friend; and on that account their gratitude will always endeavour to regard him as complacently, as possible, and to separate what his masters can do from what he himself cannot:—it even prevents them perhaps from discerning the harm which a man of his lax turn of thinking, in countenancing the loose principles of another, may have done to the cause which he hoped to assist:—but they are not blind to his defects in general any more than the English, and after the terrible example that has been furnished us of the bad effects of those principles, "peculiar respect and esteem" are words not to be prostituted to every occasion of convivial good temper: it is too late to let a contingent and partial good will exaggerate in this manner, and throw away the panegyrics that belong to first-rate worthiness.
But to return to the immediate subject. Here is an assembly of Irishmen, respectable for their rank and benevolence, and desirous for years of thinking well of the PRINCE of WALES, absolutely loading with contempt the vегу mention of his "principles" and shutting their ears against a repetition of the word—so great is their disdain and their indignation. Principles! How are we to judge of principles but by conduct? And what, in the name оf common sense, does Mr. SHERIDAN mean by saying that the PRINCE adheres to his principles? Was it a principle then in his ROYAL HIGHNESS not to adhere to his professions and promises? And is it in keeping to such a principle, that Mr. SHERIDAN informs us and "the public in general" that he means to live and die in the principles of his Master? What did Lord MOIRA, the Marquis LANSDOWNE, or the Duke of DEVONSHIRE, say to these praises? Did they anticipate or echo them? No: they kept a dead silence; and for this conscientiousness they are reproved by the ministerial papers, which pathetically tell us how good his ROYAL HIGHNESS had been to the Charity, and what a shame it was to mingle political feelings with the object of such a meeting! Political candour, they mean: had it been political flattery, they would not have cared what had been said of the PRINCE REGENT, nor how many foreign questions had been discussed. It might have been proper in the meeting, had it been possible, to distinguish between the PRINCE of WALES as a subscriber to the Irish Charity and the PRINCE REGENT as a clencher of Irish chains; but when the health of such a personage is proposed to such a meeting, political considerations are notoriously supposed to be implied in the manner of its reception, and had the reception been favourable, the ministerialists would have been as eager to take advantage of it as they now are to take umbrage. So much for the inevitable disclosure of truth, in one way or another; and thus has the very first utterance of the public opinion, vivâ voce, been loud and unequivocal in rebuke of the PRINCE REGENT.
It is impossible however, before the present article is closed, to resist an observation or two on the saddest of these Ministerial papers. Our readers are aware that the Morning Post, above all its rivals, has a faculty of carrying its nonsense to a pitch, that becomes amusing in spite of itself, and affords a relief to one's feelings in the very excess of its inflictions. Its paper of Thursday last, in an answer to a real or pretended correspondent, contained the following paragraph:—"The publication of the article of a friend, relative to the ungenerous, unmanly conduct, displayed at a late public meeting, though evidently well meant, would only serve to give consequence to a set of worthless beings, whose imbecile efforts are best treated with sovereign contempt." Worthless beings and sovereign contempt! Who would not suppose that some lofty and exemplary character was here speaking of a set of informers and profligates? One, at any rate, whose notice was an honour, and whose silent disdain would keep the noisiest of us in obscurity? Yet this is the paper, notorious above all others, in the annals of perfidy, scandal, imbecility, and indecency,—the paper which has gone directly from one side to another, which has levied contributions upon this very PRINCE, which has become a bye-word for its cant and bad writing, and which has rioted in a doggerel, an adulation, and a ribaldry, that none but the most prostituted pens would consent to use,—the paper, in short, of the STUARTS, the BENJAFIELDS, the BYRNES, and the ROSA MATILDAS! And this delicious compound, is to "give consequence" to a Society, consisting of the most respectable Irishmen in London, with rank and talent at their head!—Help us, benevolent compositors, to some mark or other,—some significant and comprehensive index,—that shall denote a laugh of an hour's duration!—If any one of our readers should not be so well acquainted as another with the taste and principles of this bewitching Post, he may be curious to see what notions of praise and political justice are entertained by the persons whose contempt is so overwhelming. He shall have a specimen; and when he is reading it, let him lament, in the midst of his laughter, that a paper, capable of such sickening adulation, should have the power of finding its way to the table of an English Prince, and of helping to endanger the country by polluting the sources of his government The same page, which contained the specimen of contempt above-mentioned, contained also a set of wretched commonplace lines in French, Italian, Spanish, and English, literally addressing the PRINCE REGENT in the following terms, among others:—"You are the glory of the People—You are the Protector of the Arts—You are the Maecenas of the age—Wherever you appear, you conquer all hearts, wipe away tears, excite desire and love, and win beauty towards you—You breathe eloquence—You inspire the Graces—You are an Adonis in loveliness! Thus gifted,"—it proceeds in English,
gifted with each grace of mind,
Born to delight and bless mankind;
Wisdom, with Pleasure in her train,
Great Prince! shall signalize thy reign:—
To Honour, Virtue, Truth, allied—
The Nation's safeguard and its pride;
With Monarchs of immortal fame
Shall bright Renown enrol thy Name."
What person, unacquainted with the true state of the case, would imagine, in reading these astounding eulogies, that this Glory of the People was the subject of millions of shrugs and reproaches! That this Protector of the Arts had named a wretched foreigner his Historical Painter in disparagement or in ignorance of the merits of his own countrymen! That this Maecenas of the Age patronized not a single deserving writer! That this Breather of Eloquence could not say a few decent, extempore words,—if we are to judge at least from what he said to his regiment on its embarkation for Portugal! That this Conqueror of Hearts was the disappointer of hopes! That this Exciter of Desire (bravo, Messieurs of the Post!) this Adonis of Loveliness, was a corpulent gentleman of fifty! In short, that this delightful, blissful wise, pleasurable, honourable, virtuous, true, and immortal PRINCE, was a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity!
These are hard truths; but are they not truths? And have we not suffered enough;—are we not now suffering bitterly,—from the disgusting flatteries, of which the above is a repetition? The ministers may talk of the shocking boldness of the press, and may throw out their wretched warnings about interviews between Mr. PERCEVAL and Sir VICARY GIBBS; but let us inform them, that such vices as have just been enumerated are shocking to all Englishmen who have a just sense of the state of Europe; and that he is a bolder man, who, at times like the present, dares to afford reason for the description. Would to GOD, the Examiner could ascertain that difficult, and perhaps undiscoverable point, which enables a public writer to keep clear of an appearance of the love of scandal while he is hunting out the vices of those in power! Then should one paper, at least, in this metropolis help to rescue the nation from the charge of silently encouraging what it must publicly rue; and the SARDANAPALUS who is now afraid of none but informers, be taught to shake, in the midst of his minions, in the drunkenness of his heart, at the voice of honesty. But if this be impossible, still there is one benefit which truth may derive from adulation,—one benefit, which is favourable to the former in proportion to the grossness of the latter, and of which none of his flatterers seem to be aware,—the opportunity of contradicting its assertions. Let us never forget this advantage, which adulation cannot help giving us; and let such of our readers, as are inclined to deal insincerely with the Great from a false notion of policy and of knowledge of the world, take warning from what they now see of the miserable effects of courtly disguise, paltering, and profligacy. Flattery in any shape is unworthy a man and a gentleman; but political flattery is almost a request to be made slaves. If we would find the Great to be what they ought, we must find some means or other to speak of them as they are.
From The Examiner No. 221 22nd March 1812