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The scene grew every day more busy as the queen became more obviously failing. Harley, at Hanover, was plying the Elector and his family with reasons why the prince ought not to go to England. The Elector himself appeared quite of the same opinion; but not so the Electress or her son. The Electress, who was now nearly eighty-four, and who was undoubtedly a woman of a very superior character, still had that trace of earthly ambition in her, that she used frequently to say she should die contented if she could only once for a little while feel the crown of England on her head. She was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, who had ruined her husband by a similar longing after a far less resplendent diadem. When pressed by Harley, the Electress and her son presented him with a memorial, which he was desired to forward to the queen. Anne, in indignation, addressed a letter to the Electress, but without effect; and on the 30th of May she indited a more determined epistle to the Elector himself:"As the rumour increases that my cousin, the Electoral Prince, has resolved to come over to settle in my lifetime in my dominions, I do not choose to delay a moment to write to you about this, and to communicate to you my sentiments upon a subject of this importance. I then freely own to you that I cannot imagine that a prince who possesses the knowledge and penetration of your Electoral Highness can ever contribute to such an attempt, and that I believe you are too just to allow that any infringement shall be made on my sovereignty which you would not choose should be made on your own. I am firmly persuaded that you would not suffer the smallest diminution of your authority. I am no less delicate in that respect; and I am determined to oppose a project so contrary to my royal authority, however fatal the consequences may be."Still, emissaries continued to pass to and fro, and notwithstanding that the promised armament had failed to reach Ireland, the impatient Irish were determined to rise. In February, 1798, they sent appeals to the French to come over, assuring them that they had three hundred thousand men banded to receive them, who only wanted arms; and Talleyrand sent them word that a fresh armament was preparing. But on the 28th of that month, O'Connor, one O'Coigley, an Irish priest, and Burns, a leading member of the London Corresponding Society, were arrested at Margate as they were about to embark for France. Papers found on O'Coigley, or Quigley, proved his treason. One was a direct invitation to the French to send an army into England, as certain to prevent the sending of British forces into Ireland, and thus to make the descent there sure. He was condemned and executed, but Burns was acquitted, and O'Connor remanded for fresh evidence. That was soon forthcoming; for one Thomas Reynolds, who had been the treasurer for the insurgents in his county, and also a colonel in the intended revolutionary army, being pressed for money, betrayed his associates. In consequence of the information which he gave, a number of the conspirators were arrested at their place of meeting. The four chief leaders, however, were not there, as expected, namely, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Emmet, Sampson, and MacNevin, but they were afterwards secured. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was surprised at one Murphy's, 153, Thomas Street, Dublin, and made a desperate resistance. He attacked Major Swan, who presented the warrant, with a dagger, and, being a powerful man, was very formidable. Major Swan discharged a pistol at him, but missed. Captain Ryan, next entering, was stabbed mortally by Lord Edward, and a bloody struggle ensued, Captain Ryan, who was, practically speaking, unarmed, behaving with great courage and self-sacrificing heroism. Major Sirr, who had surrounded the house with soldiers, then rushed in and fired at Fitzgerald, and wounded him in the shoulder. He was then overpowered and secured by the soldiers, and conveyed first of all to Dublin Castle and then to Newgate. This took place on the 19th of May. Captain Ryan died of his wounds on the 30th. Lord Edward died of fever, the consequence of his wounds, and of mortification at the failure of the enterprise (June 4).
As for the queen, she was a far superior person. She had been well brought up on the second marriage of her mother after the death of her father, by the Queen of Prussia, Sophia Charlotte, the sister of George I. She had been handsome till she grew corpulent and suffered from the smallpox, and still she was much admired for her impressive countenance, her fine voice, penetrating eye, and the grace and sweetness of her manner. She was still more admired for the striking contrast which she presented to her husband in her love of literature and literary men, extending her interest and inquiries into philosophy, theology, and metaphysics. Those who are disposed to ridicule her pretence to such knowledge admit that she was equally distinguished by prudence and good sense. She combined in her manners royal dignity and unassuming grace, and was more popular with the nation than any one of the Hanover family had ever yet been. She delighted to engage theologians in discussing knotty points of doctrine, and in perplexing them with questions on the various articles of faith in different churches, and corresponded with them on these subjects through her bedchamber woman, Mrs. Clayton, afterwards Lady Sundon. But the best proofs of Queen Caroline's superiority were shown in her pure moral character, which was free from the slightest stain, and in her quick discernment and substantial promotion of the most able men in the Church.
Attention was now turned to a matter of the highest importance in a commercial, an intellectual, and a moral point of view. The stamp duty on newspapers had been the subject of keen agitation for some months, and newspaper vendors had incurred repeated penalties for the sale of unstamped newspapers; some of them having been not only fined, but imprisoned. A general impression prevailed that such an impost was impolitic, if not unjust, and that the time had come when the diffusion of knowledge must be freed from the trammels by which it had been so long restrained. A deputation, consisting of Dr. Birkbeck, Mr. Hume, Colonel Thompson, Mr. O'Connell, Mr. Grote, Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Brotherton, Mr. Wallace, and Mr. Buckingham, having, on the 11th of February, waited upon Lord Melbourne, to ask for an entire abolition of the stamp on newspapers, he promised to give his most serious attention to the matter; and he kept his word, for on the 15th of the next month the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought the subject before Parliament, and announced the intentions of Government with regard to it. He stated that it was proposed to revise the whole of the existing law respecting stamp duties, first by consolidating into one statute the 150 Acts of Parliament over which the law was at present distributed; secondly, by the apportionment of the various rates on a new principlenamely, by the simple and uniform rule of making the price of the stamp in every case correspond to the pecuniary value involved in the transaction for which it is required. The effect of this change would be to reduce the stamp duty upon indentures of apprenticeship, bills of lading, and many others of the more common instruments, and to increase it upon mortgages and conveyances of large amounts of property. It was intimated that the proposed Consolidation Act would contain no less than 330 sections. With regard to the stamp on newspapers, then fourpence with discount, it was proposed to reduce it to one penny without discount. This would be a remission of a proportion, varying according to the price of the newspaper, of between two-thirds and three-fourths of the tax. To this remission Parliament assented, and the illicit circulation of unstamped papers was in consequence abandoned. Some of the members very reasonably objected to any stamp whatever on newspapers; but the time was not yet come when Government would venture entirely to remove it, although the advantages which must necessarily arise from such a proceeding could not but have been foreseen. It was considered unfair that the public at large should pay for the carriage of newspapers by post; and it does not seem to have been remembered that, as only a portion of them would be transmitted in this way, an injustice would be committed by demanding payment for all. The difficulty of the case was, however, in due time, easily surmounted; and political knowledge was, by the change even then made, in a great degree exempted from taxationa good preparation for the time, which was not very far off, when a newspaper of a high order might be obtained, even for the reduced price of the stamp.On the 29th of January, 1823, the King of France opened the Chambers with a speech of decidedly warlike tone. It spoke of 100,000 French soldiers prepared to march under a prince of the blood for the deliverance of Ferdinand VII. and his loyal people from the tyranny of a portion. A few weeks afterwards the march commenced, and from the Bidassoa to Madrid it was a continued triumph. The king was set at liberty, and the gates of Cadiz were opened. The Spaniards were not true to themselves, the mass of the people being unable to appreciate liberal institutions. There was also a counter-revolution in Portugal, aided by foreign bayonets, restoring the despotic system. These events produced great dissatisfaction in England, and the Duke was strongly censured for the timidity of his tone in the Congress. Replying to attacks made in the Upper House by Lords Ellenborough, Holland, and Grey, he asked whether it would be becoming in one who appeared in the character of a mediator to employ threats, especially if he had no power to carry them into effect:"Were they for a policy of peace or a policy of war? If for the former, could he go farther than to declare that to any violent attack on the independence of Spain the king his master would be no party? If for the latter, all he had to say was that he entirely differed from them, and he believed that his views would be supported by all the intelligent portion of the community."