So Lord Eldon went on opposing all reform, maintaining and championing every abuse in the electoral system and in the Court of Chancery, putting every obstacle he could in the path of any and every movement which tended to equalise the political position of class and class, and treating even the most moderate efforts of Liberal reformers as if they were the work of recognised enemies of the. human race. It was well said by a brilliant writer that it had never been the fortune of any man to have an opportunity of doing so much good as Eldon had prevented. The Prime Minister during a great part of Eldon's time was Lord Liverpool, a man whose name will always be remembered as that of one of the most bitter opponents of constitutional reform, even in those bitter anti-reforming days. Liverpool seemed to know of only one way by which a popular demand for reform could be dealt with, and that was by the passing of new Acts for the most stringent repression of all popular demonstration. He was the author of a famous series of measures known technically as the "Six Acts," and by that title well remembered among English readers of the present day, the six Acts being a series of six legislative enactments brought in with the special and avowed purpose of making any manner of popular demonstration liable to be punished as an offence against the Crown, the constitution, and society in general. Studying his history and his character as well as one can at this distance of time, it seems hard indeed to understand what claim Lord Liverpool had to be considered a statesman at all. Some of his colleagues were worthy of such companionship. Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, had once been well known as Mr. Addington, and in that capacity, through the influence of Pitt, had been raised to the dignity of Speaker of the House of Commons. Some humorous person of the time disposed of the relative positions of Pitt and Adding-ton by a couple of lines very popular in their day, which proclaimed that "Pitt is to Addington, what London is to Paddington" - Paddington being then a very small suburb indeed.
No doubt the temptation of the obvious rhyme had much to do with the inspiration of the verse; but in any case the comparison was well balanced and effective. Neither Lord Liverpool nor Lord Sidmouth had ever given any evidence, we will not say of statesmanship, but even of parliamentary aptitude. Associated with them was Lord Castlereagh, afterwards Marquis of Londonderry, a man of much greater ability than Sidmouth or Liverpool, but of yet sterner order of mind, a darker and a fiercer spirit, whose name is not likely to be soon forgotten in English political history. We have to turn to the writings of the time in order to understand what was the hatred with which Lord Castlereagh was regarded by most of the leading Liberals of his day. Byron described him as a "wretch never named but with curses and jeers." Byron, it is to be regretted, assailed him in words even more brutal than these - words which will not now bear quotation. Even Lord Castlereagh's sudden death by his own hand, in a moment of temporary unsettlement, did not silence altogether the voices of hatred. The story of England's nineteenth century brings with it, at all events, the cheering fact that we have learnt to deal with our political enemies in a more tolerant and a more Christian-like spirit than that which found only too much favour on both sides of politics for many years after the time at which this volume begins. No speaker on a platform, no writer in a newspaper, would be tolerated now who allowed himself to indulge even once in the passion of personal invective against a political opponent, which was common, even among men of education and position, during the earlier years of the present century.
Lord Eldon. (1751-1838).
Sir Walter Scott. (1771-1832).
Here, then, we have the rival forces arrayed - the Liberals and the Conservatives, if we may transfer to the warfare of our ancestors the phraseology of the present day. For years we read of little or nothing but the holding of great public meetings to advocate the cause of reform, and the breaking up of these meetings, and the prosecution and the imprisonment of those who took a leading part in them. The Government of the day believed, or affected to believe, that the meetings were organised with the definite purpose of promoting a regular revolutionary movement all over the country. There can be no doubt that in some instances there was much violence of language, and even some violence of action, on the part of the agitators. In many places a certain system of rough drilling was unquestionably going on; but it was pleaded on the part of the reformers that the drilling was nothing more than a natural and convenient way of teaching untaught and awkward men, village rustics or town artisans, how to keep step in a procession, and how to shift their quarters according to the orders of their leaders from a position which was found unsuitable to one which was better suited for the orators and the listeners alike. Charges of the darkest kind were undoubtedly made, and with much show of reason, against the Government and its officials. It was alleged that not only were the authorities in London willing to accept the evidence of the basest wretches who offered themselves as informers to disclose revolutionary plots, but that emissaries of the Government itself had in many cases hired and paid such creatures to go about among the reformers and try to get up insurrectionary plots in order that they might betray them to the officers of the law. There certainly did seem to be in many cases only too much reason to believe that some such base system was one of the weapons of the home Government.