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Early letters of Arthur Lee, written principally from the year 1767 to his departare
from London in 1776, on British and American politics during that period.
" London, THOUGH
dear brother's solicitude about my not frequently and freely writing to him is exceedingly pleasing to me, as it shows me he values my love as highly as į prize his, yet I cannot acquiesce in the justice of his complaint. For considering the great attention due to the study in which I am now engaged, and the many friends to whom I am bound to write, great indulgence should be granted to me, both in point of the frequency and length of my letters.* Neither indeed does the state of things furnish matter for much writing. The little detail of politics is too despicable to slander even your leisure hours with ; and there is no probability of any change in men or measures with us.
You will see by the last resolution of the bill of rights, which I desired our brother to send you, what hope we entertain, and what plan we have adopted to obtain a redress of grievances. You will know the author by the style. If the people cannot be roused to take some effectúal measures at the next general election, "actum est de libertate.” Mrs. McCauley has written to me, ap
Mr. A. Lee was at this time a student of law. He became a conspicuous and successful advocate, and was in habits of intimacy with Dunning and Glynn, and was often engaged in cases with them. He had studied medicine in Edinburgh, and gradaated with the botanical prize. VOL. I.
proving highly of the proceedings of the bill of rights. I am under some apprehension of having lost the patronage of Lord Shelburne and Col. Barré, by the part
1 have taken in the proceedings. Their tools conducted the attempt to dissolve the society, and destroy Mr. Wilkes, whether by their particular direction I do not know. But as I voted against them, and as their failure has totally sacrificed the popularity of Lord Shelburne, it is not improbable that he will consider me as a partisan against him, and therefore not entitled to his favour. They are both abroad at present; when they return, your presents shall be delivered. But, whatever may happen, I shall be satisfied with having acted honestly. The public cause, and particularly that of America, which induced me to engage in the society, was the mover of my conduct. Townshend is an opinionated, over-grown school-boy; Horne is a malevolent, vain, petulent, impudent priest. The former, in his conceit and folly, thought he could lead the city; the other, in his vanity and knavery, conceived that his abilities were equal to Townshend's ambition, and that he should be rewarded. The event has shown how weak their judgment was, and how impotent their endeavours were when separated from those who gave them weight and importance with the people. They never appear in public without being hissed; and at a late meeting of the livery, there were but five who voted for recommending Mr. Townshend to the common hall, as lord mayor for the ensuing year. Lord Shelburne suffers for all their follies, and has therefore lost his
popularity in the city. Expecting redress only from the people, I am determined to stand with them, however my particular interest might advise a different course. You know by experience how little profit and how much obloquy attends such a principle; but you know too, how much satisfaction springs from a conviction of its rectitude. The present lord mayor and alderman Bridges will be returned by the livery; and if the aldermen choose Bridges, he will constitute the other his locum tenens; so that popular councils will still prevail in the city. Crosby is a plain, determined man, who courts no great man,
looks to the people for approbation and support. He will
The chief political object in Europe at present is Russia, unless a cession of what she has conquered should procure the Turk an ignominious peace. The revolt of Egypt will probably oblige the Ottoman to sheathe the Russian sword at any price. Whether the encouraging of so tremendous a power, and especially the promoting of the Zarina's wish of establishing a large, disciplined, and formidable navy, be sound policy in us, to me is doubtful. We may be cherishing a serpent, which will strike us to the heart. I do not think it in the least
probable that any change will take place in the administration, unless in consequence of a war.
That is an event which the endeavours of the present men, seconded by the disturbances and inability of France, will place at a great distance. The present men do the king's business better than any others he could find; why then should he change them? Most assuredly it must be the necessity of the last extremity which will move him to admit a single man of virtue within the circle of his throne. An impeaching parliament might be a more effectual remedy than a war; but there is still less expectation of this than of that. The lords Chatham and Shelburne will then only come in, when it is necessary to cultivate the people, to support a war, or to soothe the rage of an impeaching house of commons, &c. &c.
Very melancholy, my dear brother, is the prospect of our affairs, and little apparent hope that any attention will be paid to the just rights of America. The present ministry, arbitrary and anti-American as they are, have for their opponents men who for the most part are des
* Mr. A. Lee was making a collection of the natural productions, &c. of America.
potic in their views, and who found their opposition upon the inefficacious and pusillanimous lenity of the present proceedings against the colonies. As the views of the court are unquestionably despotic on the American question, it is sure that those who talk in the most absolute style are the most agreeable. Temple and Grenville are the men I mean, with my lord Egremont, whose principles are as inconsistent with liberty as fire with water. The present administration is weak, because they acted as oppressors; but should this new set come in, being regarded as patriots, they will have the stronger support in subverting the constitution of America.
So circumstanced here, the cause of American liberty would be desperate indeed, if it find not a firm support in the virtuous and determined resolution of the people of America. This is our last, our surest hope, this is our trust and refuge. To encourage and invigorate this spirit must be the constant endeavourof every patriot, si patriæ volumus, si nobis vivere cari.
The Rockingham party have refused to take lead in obtaining the repeal of the duty acts. The merchants are very averse to present any petition to parliament for that purpose, because it is disagreeable to the ministry. Possibly they may be stirred up before the holydays are over. They do not feel enough. My lord Shelburne and his adherents are the wisest and soundest supporters of America ; but I doubt whether they will be willing to take the lead. In a few days I go to lord Shelburne's country seat by express invitation, to spend some time; while there, I hope to animate him to a more vigorous advocation of our cause. The house of lords have passed several resolves, very violent against all the proceedings at Boston, and voted an address to his majesty against the treasonable practices suspected there, and to bring the authors of them over here for trial. The justice of this they found on a statute of Henry seventh, which by a resolve of the house they extend to America. I will not anticipate your reflections on this proceeding. They were sent down to the commons, and their concurrence desired ; but they have deferred the consideration of