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Public And Private Morality: Past And Present
by [?]

Certain enterprising persons have contributed of late years to make English newspapers somewhat unpleasant reading, and mournful men are given to moaning over the growth of national corruption. So persistent have the mournful folk been, that many good simple people are in a state of grievous alarm, for they are persuaded that the nation is bound towards the pit of Doom. When doleful men and women cry out concerning abstract evils, it is always best to meet them with hard facts, and I therefore propose to show that we ought really to be very grateful for the undoubted advance of the nation toward righteousness. Hideous blots there are–ugly cankers amid our civilisation–but we grow better year by year, and the general movement is towards honesty, helpfulness, goodness, purity. Whenever any croaker begins speaking about the golden age that is gone, I advise my readers to try a system of cross-examination. Ask the sorrowful man to fix the precise period of the golden age, and pin him to direct and definite statements. Was it when labourers in East Anglia lived like hogs around the houses of their lords? Was it when the starving and utterly wretched thousands marched on London under Tyler and John Ball? Was it when the press-gangs kidnapped good citizens in broad daylight? Was it when a score of burning ricks might be seen in a night by one observer? Was it when imbecile rulers had set all the world against us–when the French threatened Ireland, and the maddened, hunger-bitten sailors were in wild rebellion, and the Funds were not considered as safe for investors? The croaker is always securely indefinite, and a strict, vigorous series of questions reduces him to rage and impotence.

Now let us go back, say, one hundred and twenty years, and let us see how the sovereign, the legislators, the aristocracy, and the people fared then; the facts may perchance be instructive. The King had resolved to be absolute, and his main energies were devoted to bribing Parliament. With his own royal hand he was not ashamed to write, enclosing what he called “gold pills,” which were to be used in corrupting his subjects. He was a most moral, industrious, cleanly man in private life; yet when the Duke of Grafton, his Prime Minister, appeared near the royal box of the theatre, accompanied by a woman of disreputable character, his Majesty made no sign. He was satisfied if he could keep the mighty Burke, the high-souled Rockingham, the brilliant Charles James Fox, out of his counsels, and he did not care at all about the morals or the general behaviour of his Ministers. About a quarter of a million was spent by the Crown in buying votes and organising corruption, and King George III. was never ashamed to appear before his Parliament in the character of an insolvent debtor when he needed money to sap the morals of his people. A movement in the direction of purity began even in George III.’s own lifetime; he was obliged to be cautious, and he ended by coming under the iron domination of William Pitt. Thus, instead of being remembered as the dangerous, obstinate, purblind man who made Parliament a sink of foulness, and who lost America, he is mentioned as a comfortable simple gentleman of the farmer sort. Before we can half understand the vast purification that has been wrought, we must study the history of the reign from 1765 to 1784, and then we may feel happy as we compare our gentle, beneficent Sovereign with the unscrupulous blunderer who fought the Colonists and all but lost the Empire.

Then consider the Ministers who carried out the Sovereign’s behest. There was “Jemmy Twitcher,” as Lord Sandwich was called. This man was so utterly bad, that in later life he never cared to conceal his infamies, because he knew that his character could not possibly be worse blackened. Sandwich belonged to the unspeakable Medmenham Abbey set. The lovely ruin had been bought and renovated by a gang of rakes, who converted it into an abode of drunkenness and grossness; they defaced the sacred trees and the grey walls with inscriptions which the indignation of a purer age has caused to be removed; they carried on nightly revels which no historian could describe, and in their wicked buffoonery mocked the Creator with burlesque religious rites. Such an unholy place would be pulled down by the mob nowadays, and the gang of debauchees would figure in the police-court; but in those “good old times” the Prime Minister and the Secretary to the Admiralty were merry members of a crew that disgraced humanity. Just six weeks after Lord Sandwich had joined the Medmenham Abbey gang, he put himself forward for election to the High Stewardship of Cambridge University. Here was a pretty position! The man had been thus described by a poet–