HC Deb 22 June 1837 vol 38 cc1554-64
Lord John Russell

appeared at the bar, and said that he was charged with a Message from her Majesty; which he immediately brought up.

The Speaker read as follows:—


"The Queen entertains the fullest confidence that the House of Commons participates in the deep affliction her Majesty feels at the death of the late King, whose constant desire to promote the interests, maintain the liberties, and improve the laws and institutions of the country, will insure for his name and memory the dutiful and affectionate respect of all her Majesty's subjects. The present state of the public business, and the period of the Session, when considered in connexion with the law which imposes on her Majesty the duty of summoning a new Parliament within a limited time, renders it inexpedient in the judgment of her Majesty that any new measure should be recommended for your adoption, with the exception of such as may be necessary for carrying on the public service from the close of the present till the meeting of the new Parliament."

Lord John Russell

then said, it is my duty on the present occasion to move an Address of this House to the Queen, in answer to her Majesty's roost gracious Message. In proposing an answer to that Message it is my intention to follow the precedents of former occasions—precedents suggested by the obvious dictates of good sense as well as by reasons of policy and considerations of respect. In conformity with those precedents, I propose to separate those expressions of sentiment regarding the loss which her Majesty and the nation have sustained, as well as those which the occasion of her accession inspires, from all that relates to the public business of the country. With respect to that part of the proposed Address which will contain expressions of condolence, I have no doubt I shall meet with perfect sympathy from all parts of the House. I feel it quite unnecessary for me to use any arguments for the purpose of inducing this House to express its sincere regret for the loss of a Monarch who was sincerely attached to the constitution of England, and who made the general good and welfare of his subjects the rule of his conduct through life. His reign, though a short one, has been remarkable for this—that during its whole course we have not been disturbed by foreign warfare, while, at the same time, it has been equally distinguished by another characteristic—namely, that during its continuance great and important changes have been made in our domestic policy. The late King was called to the Throne of these realms at a time when the demands for those changes were exceedingly prevalent. William 4th had the good fortune to be not only exercised in the ordinary occurrences and business of life, but acquainted with political affairs. In his early years he was removed to a considerable distance from any chance of succeeding to the Crown, he therefore was proportionably removed from the baleful influence of that flattery, that subserviency, those seductions, which attend persons more immediately in expectation of succeeding to Royal power. Circumstances protected him from the corrupting intercourse of those who in all courts are but too anxious to pamper the will of any who enjoy the near prospect of exercising power. He was bred to a service which constituted the glory and the support of England—he was bred to the popular and patriotic service of the Royal Navy. Subsequently he took part in the councils of this great nation as a Member of the House of Peers, and he had during a long portion of his life an opportunity of beholding political occurrences, and watching the course of public events, during the reigns of his father and his elder brother, who for so many years held the sceptre of these realms. Having enjoyed the opportunities incident to his station of making himself acquainted with the principles and details of public affairs, he came to the Throne possessing these advantages; he was, therefore, more ready and better qualified than a Prince under ordinary circumstances to cope with the difficulties which attended the period of his accession. It is not my intention, I should not be doing justice to the various parties in this House, if I were to attempt to dwell upon the political bias, or conduct in which the personal character of the late Sovereign was involved, but I am sure all who hear me will agree that, from first to last, he manifested the strongest disposition to improve the institutions of the country, and that at all times, and under all circumstances, he showed a strong disposition to comply with the wishes of his people, and this disposition he manifested, setting aside for the time the feelings which might be supposed to belong to his dignity as a Sovereign, or his own individual interests as a man. During the first Session of Parliament after the accession of the late King to the throne, there was a memorable period when it depended upon the will of the Sovereign whether or not the House of Commons should be dissolved, and whether the great question brought forward and recommended by the Government of that day should be adopted or rejected. With respect to a question now so completely settled as the Reform Act, I might perhaps be permitted to say that it is one which has proved beneficial to the country; but I do not think the present an occasion when references of that nature should be made, I therefore abstain from any remark one way or the other; but this much I trust I may be permitted to say, that his Majesty, in acting on the advice which his Ministers thought it their duty to give on that memorable occasion, demonstrated in the clearest manner his wish that the people themselves should decide whether the House of Commons, as then constituted, deserved their confidence, or whether they would sanction the charge which by the Reform Act it was proposed to accomplish. In the subsequent periods of his late Majesty's reign, whatever differences of opinion might exist amongst the several parties with respect to the policy of certain measures, I think it will be cheerfully admitted and allowed by all, that the King was throughout influenced by a sincere regard to the prosperity and happiness of his people,—which happiness he thought would be best promoted by correcting all that amounted to abuse, and preserving all that was valuable in the institutions of the country. In the course of policy pursued during the late reign the King held various political opinions, accustomed as he was to consider the political affairs of this country and the conduct of the various parties who took a share in our public concerns: but this I am bound in justice to say, having held a confidential situation in the councils of the King during the period in question that the course which his late Majesty took on occasions of such differences was the course most conformable to the constitution of this country and most befitting a Sovereign in his intercourse with his confidential and responsible advisers. Whatever his private opinions might be, his conduct at all times was marked by the greatest personal kindness: he was in the habit of stating his opinions frankly, fairly, and fully never seeking any indirect means of accomplishing any object, but in a straight forward and manly way confined himself to an open, simple, and plain attempt to impress the minds of others with the opinion which he himself might at the moment entertain; and when upon any occasion the expression of his opinions did not lead to any change in the sentiments of his confidential servants, it was then that he, conceiving the pursuance of such a course to be his duty, either renounced and parted with the services of his advisers, or, permitting them to continue his servants, left them wholly responsible for carrying into effect the course of policy which they recommended. It must be evident that that manly and noble conduct could not fail to have the effect of attaching to him every man who had the honour during his reign of being engaged in the service of the Crown, whatever political opinions he might have held. Amongst the various merits and good qualities for which the late King was remarkable, I should be guilty of injustice if I did not state that the acquaintance he showed with the various classes of his subjects, with the state of the country, and with the laws and constitution of this realm, was most remarkable and perfect. I will instance the Poor-laws, since it never was a party question, and I may add, that his fitness to judge of the merits of that question related as well to Ireland as to England. In that question, whether it regarded England or Ireland, he took a deep interest, and his observations on it, whether they related to the one portion of the United Kingdom or the other, did show an intimate acquaintance with the various classes of his subjects, and above all, the deep desire and the deep interest he took, and the strong desire be felt, to promote their welfare and happiness. Be it observed, that I say this without stating what was the nature of his Majesty's observations, or to what they tended. Whatever might have been their tendency, the sincere and earnest object of his solicitude was to promote the happiness of all classes of his subjects, and more especially of those whose poverty made them less an object of regard to persons actuated by motives less high and less pure. As to his late Majesty's conduct in other respects, as sovereign, I am sure I need not in this House dwell much in detail upon a matter so well known to all who hear me. His hospitality as a sovereign, his perfect readiness to give access to his presence, his anxiety at all times to increase the happiness of those around him, are known to all who knew anything of William 4th. No quality more distinguished the character of the late King than his affectionate conduct to all who might stand in need of his assistance. Setting aside in some respects the dignity and pomp which belong to his station, he was ever ready to relieve the distress of all who could properly come within the scope of Royal beneficence. After a reign of nearly seven years his Majesty became afflicted with a disease which I believe the physicians in attendance thought from the very first to be attended with danger. It was my duty to state to his Majesty that his servants were quite of opinion there could not be a shadow of doubt on the question, that the general wish of his subjects was, that his Majesty should not neglect any precaution calculated to preserve his health. His Majesty, with acknowledgments which I need not repeat, stated it was a great comfort to him that the public business was not interrupted by his illness. I believe, that in the unfortunate state of his Majesty's constitution, it would have been impossible to have preserved his life by any precautions. But his devotion during his last illness, as well as through his whole reign, to the public service ought now to endear his name and memory to all classes of his subjects. It was my wish, certainly, while this illness lasted, accompanied as it was with considerable suffering, not to press on his Majesty with any business which did not require immediate attention, but I am bound to say that all that which did, received immediate notice, and as an instance I may state, that on the last day of his life he signed one of those papers in which he exercised the royal prerogative of mercy. Five or six days before his death there happened to be one of those offices vacant—the Military Knights of Windsor—and his Majesty mentioned that a person had some time before applied. I was not aware of who it was, but when I looked at the papers I found he was an officer who had been a considerable time in the army, and the occasion on which he was disabled was afterwards, when in the Yeomanry. His Majesty's health had been drunk, and in firing off a gun, as was customary, the gun burst, by which accident he had both his arms shattered. His Majesty had remembered the circumstance, and, recollecting it even on a bed of sickness and severe suffering, the last appointment his Majesty made was a provision for that gentleman. I mention that as one instance out of many—if I were to mention all the instances of his Majesty's kindness which were shown in the last days of his life, they are numerous, and would take up much of the time of the House. I think it was the proper reward of such a reign—a reign spent in a desire at all times to promote the benefit of his people, and that with an entire absence of selfishness, with a great manifestation of generosity, and an extreme wish always to promote the interests of morality and religion—it was, Sir, the appropriate reward of such a reign that, during that last and most painful illness, which his Majesty knew to be an illness of an alarming nature, he enjoyed the greatest calm and quiet during the whole of it. It was likewise the natural reward of such a reign that he should have enjoyed throughout the whole of his last illness an unusual degree of fortitude. I have heard from those about him, that he was at all times in a most even temper, and most ready to make allowance for any pain to which he might necessarily be put. It was also part of the reward of a reign so spent that he should have enjoyed the full use of his faculties to the last, and that when visited by a most rev. prelate he was able to attend to the offices of religion with perfect composure. His Majesty having thus died lamented, the people he has reigned over having been thus deprived of him, I have only to ask the House to vote an address of condolence to her present Majesty upon the loss which she and the nation have sustained. At first view it may appear as if such an address but ill assorted with those congratulations which it is very fitting we should offer to the young Queen on her accession to the throne. If her Majesty had enjoyed an opportunity during many years of attending to the affairs of this country, and of learning how it was governed, her accession might well be matter of congratulation, but with no interval between the finishing of her education and the time at which Parliament had declared her majority to commence, there is something most serious and awful in the thought that she has had cast on her the government of a great country. When I propose, therefore, that we should vote an address of congratulation, I cannot help referring to those topics to which she has herself adverted in her address to the Privy Council. In that address her Majesty has stated that she trusted Divine Providence would give her strength to perform those duties with a wisdom that belonged to greater experience and more mature age. Her Majesty stated that she placed her next reliance upon the wisdom of Parliament and the loyalty of her people. She stated that she had been born and educated in this country under the guidance of a careful and affectionate mother. Those, Sir, are the topics of congratulation. Those, Sir, are the topics that make one believe, which make one willing to believe, that the present Queen will not belie the expectations—the general, the universal expectations, which are entertained with respect to her future reign. She has had an excellent education under a careful and affectionate mother, who, knowing the high station she was destined to fill, has been anxiously solicitous to qualify her for the task; but allowing education to have done all that education can effect, we must be aware that much must depend upon the high courage which inspires high thoughts, and upon the will and the wish to devote herself to the interests of the country. That such will be her resolution I entertain the fullest confidence. I feel assured that her royal mind will be devoted to the improvement of those institutions which we have been fortunate enough to inherit, and that, raised as she has been, and will be, in the affectionate welcome of a great and powerful people, she will be enabled, under Divine Providence, to accomplish that good of which this kingdom stands so much in need at the beginning of a reign that, I trust, will be prosperous and happy. Of this lam sure, that the Members of this House of Commons and the wishes of those who elected it, will convey to her Majesty that advice which they think will tend most to her Majesty's honour, to the welfare of these kingdoms, to the preservation and strengthening of those rights and liberties which have immemorially belonged, and which I trust perpetually may belong, to the people of these United Kingdoms.

Sir R. Peel

said, although my attendance here to-day is not unaccompanied by pain, yet the pain I should feel would be far more acute and more lasting if I were unable to join in the mournful ceremony which we are this evening called upon to go through. Only seven short years have elapsed since I, standing then in the situation which the noble Lord who has just sat down at present fills, had to perform the duty of proposing to the House of Commons that it should offer to his late Majesty an assurance of our condolence on the death of his lamented predecessor, and at the same time to express their anxious hope that the reign upon which he was then about to enter might be long and prosperous. If that prosperity could have been insured alone by the devotion of a Monarch to the best interests of the country, the latter wish would have been completely accomplished, for never did any sovereign obtain more entirely than did William 4th the gratitude and affection of his people. I need hardly remind the House that one of those wishes was disappointed. The hope which we expressed of a long reign has unfortunately not been fulfilled; but when we expressed another hope—namely, that his Majesty might enjoy the respect and affections of his people—the House of Commons conveyed a wish which has been more than realised. To me it is now a melancholy consolation to be permitted to second this motion, and to unite with the noble Lord opposite in proposing to this House that we should offer to the memory of the late King a sincere tribute of national respect. The becoming reserve which secludes a sovereign from the ordinary in- ter course of society had not the effect of concealing the real nature and disposition of the King, and I do believe that there never existed a more universal feeling than that now prevailing in this country, that the reigns of Government never were intrusted to one who bore himself more fairly in every relation—who bore the honours of his rank more meekly or with more true dignity—who evinced more compassion towards all who suffered, or who manifested on every occasion a nature more entirely free from selfishness. There was no rank, however exalted, no station, however humble, in which persons were not to be found who had opportunities of seeing how anxiously the late King did all in his power to promote individual and general happiness. It must, I am sure, be amongst the greatest consolations of his illustrious and now widowed Queen that the House of Commons—the heart of this great nation should entertain such sentiments as I am satisfied they do feel towards her lamented husband, and that we are at the same time profoundly sensible that she has, during the whole course of his reign, shed a luster on it by the discharge of every domestic virtue, and the performance of all the duties of domestic life. In the last and closing scene of mortal agony it is well known that she made unexampled efforts to mitigate the sufferings of him whose life was of so much value to her and to that people who were proud to acknowledge her as their Queen. I have had the good fortune to occupy the situation under the late King which the noble Lord opposite now fills, and I am enabled with the most perfect sincerity to confirm all that he has stated with respect to his late Majesty's devoted attention to business, to the feelings and convenience of those with whom that business was to be transacted; and I may add, that that application to business was carried the length of an utter forgetfulness of all amusement, and even of all private considerations, that could for a moment interfere with the most efficient discharge of his public duties. Never had public servants a more kind and indulgent master; never did a man act with more perfect fidelity. Never was there a man who, whatever might be his own political opinions, or with whatever frankness they might be stated, who acted with more entire good faith than his Majesty did towards those who were responsible for the advice they tendered. There was not only an absence of all indirect means by which their free action could be impeded, there was not only a total absence of intrigue, but there was that sincere confidence and support, which was perfectly compatible with the maintenance of even opposite opinions. In those cases in which it did happen to that much lamented Sovereign to entertain sentiments different from his responsible advisers, they were, I can undertake to say, never pressed beyond the proper limits. It is, Sir, with heartfelt sincerity that I join in the cordial good wishes expressed in the Address moved by the noble Lord, that health, happiness, and a long reign of prosperity and glory may be enjoyed by the infant—the young Queen; and I can only wish that that success may respond to her own natural inclinations, and to her own natural powers—that it may respond to the affectionate care and unremitting attention which have been devoted by an illustrious princess and an affectionate mother to her education. If that success correspond to those natural expectations and to that unremitting zeal, it will be as complete as human success can be. It is difficult, however unphilosophical it may be, to avoid forming a judgment from slight indications; but I will venture to say that there is no man who was present when her Majesty, at the age of eighteen years, first stepped from the privacy of domestic life to the discharge of the high functions which on Tuesday last she was first called on to perform, without entertaining a confident expectation that she who could so demean herself was destined to a reign of happiness for her people and glory for herself. There is something which art cannot imitate and lessons cannot teach—and there was something in that demeanour which could only have been suggested by a high and generous nature. There was an expression of deep regret at the domestic calamity with which she had been visited, and of a deep and awful sense of the duties she was called upon to fulfil—there was a becoming and dignified modesty in all her actions, which could, as I have already observed, only have been dictated by a high and generous nature, brought up no doubt under the guidance of one to whose affection, care, and solicitude, she is, and ought to be deeply grateful. I shall not weaken the effect of the noble Lord's speech by entering into further details; they are totally unnecessary. I trust I have said enough to convince the House that all persons, without reference to party distinctions, and in the oblivion on this day of all party differences join in the expression of cordial condolence with her Majesty on the loss which she and the country have sustained, and in the most heartfelt wish that we are now at the commencement of a long, a prosperous, and a happy reign.

The Address was unanimously agreed to and ordered to be presented by such Members of that House as were Members of her Majesty's most hon. Privy Council.

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