Perhaps with this touching scene we may begin to take our leave of William IV. This is not an abstract and brief chronicle of the rise and fall of Ministries or a minute account of the stages through which every effort of reform had to pass before it reached any point of advantage and was ready to start again. This is the story of England during the Nineteenth Century, and is best told in clear and rapid outlines. Nothing of great historic moment happened during the remainder of the reign of William IV., except the passing of Lord John Russell's measure for a reform of the anomalous and grotesque condition of the Municipal Corporations. It is worth mentioning that one stage of the movement for reforming the Irish tithe system and the Irish Church, especially the "forward policy" advocated by Mr. Ward and Mr. Grote, both great reformers, cost to the Liberal Government the services of Lord Stanley, who found that his leader and his colleagues were going too far and too fast for him in the popular direction. Lord Stanley remained during the whole of his subsequent career a stout and steady Tory fighting off reform of any kind as long as he could resist it. He was, nevertheless, a man of extraordinary aptitude; with him, as Macaulay said, "the power of parliamentary debate seemed to be an instinct." He passed into the House of Lords, still as Lord Stanley, at a later period of his career, and finally was known there as Earl of Derby, and on the whole as the finest debater among the peers of his time. He had been called the Rupert of debate, and the phrase was happy and has clung to him since it was first applied. He always charged his foemen with the impetuosity and the courage of a very Prince Rupert; but he was seldom able to do more than win his own part of the battle, and the enemies held the ground in the end.
Lord Grey resigned office, and Sir Robert Peel came into power for a time, but another stage of the tithe question led to the fall of Sir Robert Peel's Administration and the summoning to office of Lord Melbourne. Lord Melbourne was a man of a certain solid ability, and of some literary culture, who would have made a very respectable Prime Minister at a time when there was nothing particular to be done. He was easy-going; he objected to change of any kind; his familiar question to his colleagues was, " Why can't you let things alone ?" In political life, however, things have a way of not consenting to be let alone, and Lord Melbourne, who had a particular dislike to being hurried, was only suited to be a kind of stop-gap in the movement of legislation.
Sir Robert Peel still had by far the greater part of his career before him, and he was a statesman and a man of genius. For the most part the remaining years of the reign were passed in more or less futile and sometimes feeble efforts of the Whig party to push forward reforms of various kinds, and of the Tory party to defeat, or, at least, to weaken or delay them. The Whig party began to fall out of consideration with the country. The popular movement was too strong for them. The breath of thought and of intellect all over the country blew upon them to as little purpose as the common wind might blow on a waterlogged and dismasted vessel. Many men inside the House of Commons, and out of it, began openly to profess themselves disgusted with the good-for-nothing action of the Whigs. Men like Lord Grey's impetuous son-in-law, Lord Durham, had no patience with the leaders of the party. People were asking themselves everywhere why Ministers called themselves Whigs and what possible connection their policy had with that of Charles James Fox and his companions. The name of Whig was for the time associated, as it came to be once again associated in later days, with the idea of feebleness and half-heartedness, until at last it began to be openly declared that a Whig Minister was only a man who had got himself into office in order to shelter himself behind the Tories.
Then, at last, came the year 1837; and the public soon began to learn that the reign of William IV. was near its close. At the opening of 1837 the King's family could not but see that his strength was giving way. He had had very good health, as a rule, since his accession to the throne; but now, those who were closely around him had the conviction forced upon them that a sudden change for the worst was taking place. He was upwards of seventy years of age, and although that does not seem a very advanced period of life as the lives of men are measured in our day, yet it certainly is a period at which the recovering force and the repair of tissue are not much to be expected, and when a sudden falling off is likely to lead to a complete falling away. It was noticed that on the 17th of May, when returning from London to Windsor, he had much difficulty in ascending the stairs and had to sit down and take rest by the way. As the days went on he lost appetite and became subject to fainting fits. When he was able to hold a Council he had to be wheeled into the Council Chamber in an arm-chair, as his power of walking had almost entirely gone - a dismal change from the manner in which he used to tramp about London shortly after his accession to the throne. The King was entirely aware that his condition was dangerous; and he bore himself with patience and with courage. He expressed a strong wish to live for some time yet; and murmured his belief that as the next heir to the throne, the Princess Victoria, was still very young, it might be better if his life were prolonged for a few years more. Indeed, the poor old King had begun to regard his own existence as of infinite moment to the safety of the country, and there was something very touching in the evident sincerity with which he made known that conviction. He talked freely on various subjects, especially about the great naval victories of England, the anniversary of one or two of which happened to come up during the later days of his illness. There was no subject which gave him more delight than that of England's triumphs on the deep; and he might have been another Nelson, or at least another Cochrane, from the manner in which he threw his whole soul and spirit into association with some of the great victories over the French. He consulted with his Ministers whenever he could, and he signed a State paper every now and then when his trembling fingers allowed him to hold a pen. It is a fact to be remembered that the very last State paper he ever signed was the pardon of a condemned criminal. Even a great sovereign could not, perhaps, have closed his life with a more touching expression of sovereignty. The last words which were heard from his lips, on the night of the 19th of May, were addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and simply said, "Believe me, I am a religious man".