John Constable, R.A. (I776 I837.)

John Constable, R.A. (I776-I837).

The King still complacently hoped for the best, according to his interpretation of the word. There had been an expedition to Algiers in consequence of a quarrel between the French Government and the Dey of Algiers, and the latest military exploit of the Bourbons had been the conquest of the territory which we now know as Algeria. The King was possessed by the hope that the glory of this conquest would be enough to turn away public contention from any minor questions at home such as that of liberty of the Press, and the right of public speech; but the conquest of Algiers was not quite like one of Napoleon's victories, and the public of France kept on clamouring for reform without seeming to concern themselves about the new annexation of territory. Then again, to make matters worse for the King, there had been a bad winter and spring, the supplies of food were stinted, and the mere throwing out of employment of the vast number of workers who depended on the printing offices for their wages, was of itself enough to strengthen and embitter the popular discontent. The troops themselves were but ill provided for, and soldiers called out for special duty were sometimes left with hardly anything to eat or drink. Yet the King and his Ministers went their way as if the road lay smooth before them. There were prosecutions after prosecutions, which only made matters worse, and the King had now the majority of the Representative Chamber against him. He endeavoured to strengthen himself in the Senate by creating a large number of new Peers; but the struggle had gone too far to be seriously affected by any such measure, and the new Peers had little inclination to set themselves against the whole public of France. The King had now the best of the judges against him - it is to the honour of the Bench of Justice in almost every country that it has so often stood out against the despotic decrees of a Sovereign who chose to set aside the Constitution.

The King went on from bad to worse; he dissolved the Chamber of Deputies on the ground that during the recent elections means had been used in various parts of the country to deceive the electors and prevail on them to disregard the wishes of the Sovereign. He went so far as even to set aside the provisions of the charter itself, to reduce the number of deputies in the Representative Chamber, and to alter their qualification and the methods by which they were elected. Sometimes, indeed, he seemed to waver in his purpose, and to be willing to come to terms with the people; but whenever he did thus waver he wavered at the wrong time, and found that it was too late, and then fell back on his rigid original determination. The officer in command of the troops at that time was Marshal Marmont, one of Napoleon's old generals, who had taken service under the King after Napoleon's fall, and had done his duty loyally, but who had little heart for the sort of work that now seemed to be set before him. In Paris the Republican Tricolor was flying everywhere, the people had begun to erect barricades in the streets - Miss Martineau, in her " History of the Peace," says that in relation to these events there first appeared in the London Annual Register the words, then new in such sense to the British public, " barricade " and " omnibus." Marshal Marmont sent to St. Cloud, where the King was staying, an aide-de-camp with a letter describing all that was going on in the capital.

The messenger delivered the letter to the King himself, urging that an instant reply should be given; and then followed a memorable question and answer, "Is it a revolt? asked the King. "No, sire," was the answer, " it is not a revolt - it is a revolution." Then the King in despair offered to abdicate the Crown in favour of his grandson, the child of the Duke de Berri, who, he believed, would have a better chance than the King's own son. But the time had gone too far for any such arrangement as that. There had been fighting in the streets of Paris, and the fact that the revolution was not more deeply soaked in blood - the numbers killed on both sides being somewhere about a thousand, and the wounded in proportion - was due only to the conduct of most of the troops, who positively refused to fire on the people, or to take any part in the suppression of the popular movement. In fact, the revolution was accomplished. The King and his family escaped and found a refuge in England. Prince Polignac and others of the Ministry were tried and sentenced to life-long terms of imprisonment, but released by amnesty in 1836. The son of Philippe Egalite was proclaimed King, not of France, but of the French; and mounted the throne as King Louis Philippe, whom Carlyle afterwards described as "struggling under sad circumstances, to be called King of the French for a season," and it should be added in justice to Carlyle's power of prophetic vision that he used the words long before Louis Philippe's reign seemed likely to come to an abrupt end. Louis Philippe was set up as King of the Barricades, and Charles X. had by this time found a refuge in Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, where he had been sheltered during his former exile from France. There was the end of the elder branch of the Bourbons.

Before this end had quite arrived the career of George IV. had come to a close. George had been sinking in health for some time, and at last it became evident to all observers that his life could not long endure. His latest acts as a Sovereign had been in keeping with the policy of his reign and of his Regency. He set his face rigidly against all reforms, and, indeed, unconsciously did what he could to make his death seem a relief to the great majority of his people. The rising generation could remember nothing of the hopes with which he had once inspired the public mind. They knew of him only as a man cursed with indolence and dandyism and dissipation. The nation had grieved, indeed, when his only daughter died, because it was felt everywhere that, should she succeed to the crown, the Empire would be blessed with the rule of an enlightened, a virtuous, and a noble-hearted sovereign. But the fates ruled it otherwise; and perhaps in losing his daughter, George lost the only human being whom he really loved, and who would have loved him if she could, if his selfishness, his worthlessness, and his occasional bursts of harshness would have allowed her. George IV. was succeeded by his brother, William IV., Duke of Clarence, who had been trained for the sea, and had proved a most unmanageable and unruly officer. William IV. was accepted as king with composure by most of his subjects, and with a certain renewed hopefulness by few on both sides. There were those on the Tory side who still thought it not impossible that the new king might be able to hold his own against the rising movement in favour of Constitutional Reform. There were a few on the Liberal side who thought that William IV., coming to royal power for the first time at an advanced age, would have acquired experience enough to teach him that the day had gone by when a king could make himself an effective barrier against the movement of the times.