The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter LIV: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser, 15 August 1771.

[220] SIR,

I ought to make an apology to the Duke of GraftonDuke of Grafton, for suffering any part of my attention to be diverted from his grace to Mr. Horne. I am not justified by the similarity of their dispositions. Private vices, however detestable, have not dignity sufficient to attract the censure of the press, unless they are united with the power of doing some signal mischief to the community. Mr. Horne's situation does not correspond with his intentions. In my opinion, (which I know will be attributed to my usual vanity and presumption) his letter to me does not deserve an answer. But I understand that the public are not satisfied with my silence; that an answer is expected from me; and that if I persist in refusing to plead, it will be taken for conviction. I should be inconsistent with the principles I profess, if I declined an appeal to the good sense of the people, or did not willingly submit myself to the judgment of my peers.

If any coarse expressions have escaped me, I am ready to agree that they are unfit for Junius to make use of; but I see no reason to admit that they have been improperly applied.

Mr. Horne, it seems, is unable to comprehend how an extreme want of conduct and discretion can consist with the abilities I have allowed him; nor can he conceive that [221] a very honest man, with a very good understanding, may be deceived by a knave. His knowledge of human nature must be limited indeed. Had he never mixed with the world, one would have thought that even his books might have taught him better—Did he hear Lord Mansfield when he defended his doctrine concerning libels? Or when he stated the law in prosecutions for criminal conversation? Or when he delivered his reasons for calling the House of Lords together to receive a copy of his charge to the jury in Woodfall's trial? Had he been present upon any of these occasions, he would have seen how possible it is for a man of the first talents to confound himself in absurdities, which would disgrace the lips of an idiot. Perhaps the example might have taught him not to value his own understanding so highly. Lord Lyttleton's integrity and judgment are unquestionable; yet he is known to admire that cunning Scotchman, and verily believes him an honest man. I speak to facts, with which all of us are conversant. I speak to men, and to their experience; and will not descend to answer the little sneering sophistries of a collegian. Distinguished talents are not necessarily connected with discretion. If there be any thing remarkable in the character of Mr. Horne, it is, that extreme want of judgment should be united with his very moderate capacity.—Yet I have not forgotten the acknowledgment I made him; he owes it to my bounty : and though his letter has lowered him in my opinion, I scorn to retract the charitable donation.

I said it would be very difficult for Mr. Horne to write directly in defence of a ministerial measure, and not to be detected, and even that difficulty I confined to his particular situation. He changes the terms of the proposition, and supposes me to assert, that it would be impossible for any man to write for the newspapers, and not be discovered.

He repeatedly affirms, or intimates at least, that he knows the author of these letters. With what colour of truth, then, can he pretend, "That I am no where to be encountered but in a newspaper?" I shall leave him to his suspicions. It is not necessary that I should confide in the honour and discretion of a man, who already seems to hate me with as much rancour as if I had formerly been his friend. But he asserts, that he has traced me [222] through a variety of signatures. To make the discovery of any importance to his purpose, he should have proved, either that the fictitious character of Junius has not been consistently supported, or that the author has maintained different principles under different signatures. I cannot recall to my memory the numberless trifles I have written; but I rely upon the consciousness of my own integrity, and defy him to fix any colourable charge of inconsistency upon me.

I am not bound to assign the secret motives of his apparent hatred of Mr. Wilkes: nor does it follow that I may not judge fairly of his conduct, though it were true that I had no conduct of my own. Mr. Horne enlarges with rapture upon the importance of his services; the dreadful battles which he might have been engaged in, and the dangers he has escaped. In support of the formidable description he quotes verses without mercy. The gentleman deals in fiction, and naturally appeals to the evidence of the poets. Taking him at his word, he cannot but admit the superiority of Mr. Wilkes in this line of service. On one side, we see nothing but imaginary distress; on the other, we see real prosecutions; real penalties; real imprisonment; life repeatedly hazarded; and, at one moment, almost the certainty of death. Thanks are undoubtedly due to every man who does his duty in the engagement, but it is the wounded soldier who deserves the reward.

I did not mean to deny, that Mr. Horne had been an active partizan. It would defeat my own purpose not to allow him a degree of merit which aggravates his guilt. The very charge "of contributing his utmost efforts to support a ministerial measure," implies an acknowledgment of his former services. If he had not once been distinguished by his apparent zeal in defence of the common cause, he could not now be distinguished by deserting it. As for myself, it is no longer a question, "Whether I shall mix with the throng, and take a single share in the danger." Whenever Junius appears, he must encounter a host of enemies. But is there no honourable way to serve the public, without engaging in personal quarrels with insignificant individuals, or submitting to the drudgery of canvassing votes for an election? Is there no merit in dedicating my life to the information of my fellow-subjects? [223] What public question have I declined? What villain have I spared? Is there no labour in the composition of these letters? Mr. Horne, I fear is partial to me, and measures the facility of my writings by the fluency of his own.

He talks to us in high terms of the gallant feats he would have performed if he had lived in the last century The unhappy Charles could hardly have escaped him. But living princes have a claim to his attachment and respect. Upon these terms, there is no danger in being a patriot. If he means any thing more than a pompous rhapsody, let us try how well his argument holds together. I presume he is not yet so much a courtier as to affirm that the constitution has not been grossly and daringly violated under the present reign. He will not say, that the laws have not been shamefully broken or perverted; that the rights of the subject have not been invaded; or, that redress has not been repeatedly solicited and refused. Grievances like these were the foundation of the rebellion in the last century; and, if I understand Mr. Horne, they would, at that period, have justified him, to his own mind, in deliberately attacking the life of his sovereign. I shall not ask him, to what political constitution this doctrine can be reconciled: but, at least, it is incumbent upon him to show, that the present king has better excuses than Charles the First, for the errors of his government. He ought to demonstrate to us, that the constitution was better understood a hundred years ago, than it is at present; that the legal rights of the subject, and the limits of the prerogative, were more accurately defined, and more clearly comprehended. If propositions like these cannot be fairly maintained, I do not see how he can reconcile it to his conscience, not to act immediately with the same freedom with which he speaks. I reverence the character of Charles the First as little as Mr. Horne; but I will not insult his misfortunes by a comparison that would degrade him.

It is worth observing, by what gentle degrees the furious, persecuting zeal of Mr. Horne has softened into moderation. Men and measures were yesterday his object. What pains did he once take to bring that great state criminal M'Quirk to execution! Today he confines himself to measures only; no penal example is to be left to [224] the successors of the Duke of Grafton. Tomorrow, I presume, both men and measures will be forgiven. The flaming patriot, who so lately scorched us in the meridian, sinks temperately to the west, and is hardly felt as he descends.

I comprehend the policy of endeavouring to communicate to Mr. Oliver and Mr. Sawbridge a share in the reproaches with which he supposes me to have loaded him. My memory fails me, if I have mentioned their names with disrespect; unless it be reproachful to acknowledge a sincere respect for the character of Mr. Sawbridge, and not to have questioned the innocence of Mr. Oliver's intentions.

It seems I am a partizan of the great leader of the opposition. If the charge had been a reproach, it should have been better supported. I did not intend to make a public declaration of the respect I bear Lord Chatham; I well knew what unworthy conclusions would be drawn from it. But I am called upon to deliver my opinion; and surely it is not in the little censure of Mr. Horne to deter me from doing signal justice to a man, who, I confess, has grown upon my esteem. As for the common sordid views of avarice, or any purpose of vulgar ambition, I question whether the applause of Junius would be of service to Lord Chatham. My vote will hardly recommend him to an increase of his pension, or to a seat in the cabinet. But, if his ambition be upon a level with his understanding, if he judges of what is truly honourable for himself, with the same superior genius which animates and directs him to eloquence in debate, to wisdom in decision, even the pen of Junius shall contribute to reward him. Recorded honours shall gather round his monument, and thicken over him. It is a solid fabric, and will support the laurels that adorn it. I am not conversant in the language of panegyric. These praises are extorted from me; but they will wear well, for they have been dearly earned.

My detestation of the Duke of Grafton is not founded upon his treachery to any individual; though I am willing enough to suppose, that, in public affairs, it would be impossible to desert or betray Lord Chatham, without doing an essential injury to this country. My abhorrence of the Duke arises from an intimate knowledge of his character, [225] and from a thorough conviction that his baseness has been the cause of greater mischief to England, than even the unfortunate ambition of Lord Bute.

The shortening the duration of parliaments is a subject on which Mr. Horne cannot enlarge too warmly, nor will I question his sincerity. If I did not profess the same sentiments, I should be shamefully inconsistent with myself. It is unnecessary to bind Lord Chatham by the written formality of an engagement. He has publicly declared himself a convert to triennial parliaments; and though I have long been convinced, that this is the only possible resource we have left to preserve the substantial freedom of the constitution, I do not think we have a right to determine against the integrity of Lord Rockingham or his friends. Other measures may undoubtedly be supported in argument, as better adapted to the disorder, or more likely to be obtained.

Mr. Horne is well assured that I never was the champion of Mr. Wilkes. But though I am not obliged to answer for the firmness of his future adherence to the principles he professes, I have no reason to presume that he will hereafter disgrace them. As for all those imaginary cases which Mr. Horne so petulantly urges against me, I have one plain honest answer to make him! Whenever Mr. Wilkes shall be convicted of soliciting a pension, an embassy, or a government, he must depart from that situation, and renounce that character, which he assumes at present, and which, in my opinion, entitles him to the support of the public. By the same act, and at the same moment, he will forfeit his power of mortifying the king: and though he can never be a favourite at St. James's, his baseness may administer a solid satisfaction to the royal mind. The man I speak of has not a heart to feel for the frailties of his fellow-creatures. It is their virtues that afflict, it is their vices that console him.

I give every possible advantage to Mr. Horne, when I take the facts he refers to for granted. That they are the produce of his invention, seems highly probable; that they are exaggerated, I have no doubt. At the worst, what do they amount to, but that Mr. Wilkes, who never was thought of as a perfect pattern of morality, has not been at all times proof against the extremity of distress. How shameful is it in a man who has lived in [226] friendship with him, to reproach him with failings too naturally connected with despair? Is no allowance to be made for banishment and ruin? Does a two years' imprisonment make no atonement for his crimes? The resentment of a priest is implacable: no sufferings can soften, no penitence can appease him. Yet he himself, I think, upon his own system, has a multitude of political offences to atone for. I will not insist upon the nauseous detail with which he so long disgusted the public; he seems to be ashamed of it. But what excuse will he make to the friends of the constitution, for labouring to promote this consummately bad man to a station of the highest national trust and importance? Upon what honourable motives did he recommend him to the livery of London for their representative; to the ward of Farringdon for their alderman; to the county of Middlesex for their knight? Will he affirm, that, at that time, he was ignorant of Mr. Wilkes's solicitations to the ministry? That he should say so, is, indeed, very necessary for his own justification; but where will he find credulity to believe him?

In what school this gentleman learned his ethics, I know not. His logic seems to have been studied under Mr. Dyson. That miserable pamphleteer, dividing the only precedent in point, and taking as much of it as suited his purpose, had reduced his argument upon the Middlesex election to something like the shape of a syllogism. Mr. Horne has conducted himself with the same ingenuity and candour. I had affirmed, that Mr. Wilkes would preserve the public favour, "as long as he stood forth against a ministry and parliament, who were doing every thing they could to enslave the country, and as long as he was a thorn in the king's side." Yet, from the exulting triumph of Mr. Horne's reply, one would think that I had rested my expectation that Mr. Wilkes would be supported by the public, upon the single condition of his mortifying the king. This may be logic at Cambridge, or at the treasury; but, among men of sense and honour, it is folly or villany in the extreme.

I see the pitiful advantage he has taken of a single unguarded expression, in a letter not intended for the public. Yet it is only the expression that is unguarded. I adhere to the true meaning of that member of the sentence, taken separately as he takes it; and now, upon the coolest deliberation, [227] re-assert, that, for the purposes I referred to, it may be highly meritorious to the public, to wound the personal feelings of the sovereign. It is not a general proposition, nor is it generally applied to the chief magistrate of this, or any other constitution. Mr. Horne knows, as well as I do, that the best of princes is not displeased with the abuse which he sees thrown upon his ostensible ministers. It makes them, I presume, more properly the objects of his royal compassion. Neither does it escape his sagacity, that the lower they are degraded in the public esteem, the more submissively they must depend upon his favour for protection. This I affirm, upon the most solemn conviction, and the most certain knowledge, is a leading maxim in the policy of the closet. It is unnecessary to pursue the argument any farther.

Mr. Horne is now a very loyal subject. He laments the wretched state of politics in this country; and sees, in a new light, the weakness and folly of the opposition. "Whoever, or whatever, is sovereign. demands the respect and support of the people:"* it was not so "when Nero fiddled while Rome was burning." Our gracious sovereign has had wonderful success in creating new attachments to his person and family. He owes it, I presume, to the regular system he has pursued in the mystery of conversion. He began with an experiment upon the Scotch, and concludes with converting Mr. Horne. What a pity it is, that the Jews should be condemned by Providence to wait for a Messiah of their own!

The priesthood are accused of misinterpreting the Scriptures. Mr. Horne has improved upon his profession. He alters the text, and creates a refutable doctrine of his own. Such artifices cannot long delude the understandings of the people; and, without meaning an indecent comparison, I may venture to foretell, that the Bible and Junius will be read, when the commentaries of the Jesuits are forgotten.


* The very soliloquy of Lord Suffolk before he passed the Rubicon.

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