1806

1806.

Nelson's funeral—Epigrams—Death of Pitt—His funeral—General Fast—Large coinage of copper—Impeachment of Lord Melville—The Abolition of the Slave Trade passes the House of Commons—Death and funeral of Fox—His warning Napoleon of a plot against him—Negotiations for peace—Napoleon declares England blockaded.

THE YEAR opens with the Funeral of Nelson, whose Victory at Trafalgar had made England Mistress of the Ocean. He was laid to his rest in St Paul's on January 9th, much to the profit of the four vergers of that Cathedral, who are said to have made more than £1000, by the daily admission of the throngs desirous of witnessing the preparations for the funeral. The Annual Register  says, “The door money is taken as at a puppet show, and amounted for several days to more than forty pounds a day.” Seats to view the procession, from the windows of the houses on the route, commanded any price, from One Guinea each; and as much as Five Hundred Guineas is said to have been paid for a house on Ludgate Hill.[23]

Enthusiasm was at its height, as it was in later times, within the memory of many of us, when the Duke of Wellington came to rest under the same roof as the Gallant Nelson. His famous signal—which, even now, thrills the heart of every Englishman—was prostituted to serve trade Advertisements, vide  the following: “England expects every man to do his duty. Nelson's Victory , or Twelfth Day. To commemorate that great National Event, which is the pride of every Englishman to hand down to the latest posterity, as well as to contribute towards alleviating the sufferings of our brave wounded Tars, &c., H. Webb , Confectioner, Little Newport Street, will, on that day, Cut for Sale , the Largest Rich Twelfth Cake  ever made, weighing near 600 lbs., part of the profits of which H. W. intends applying to the Patriotic Fund at Lloyd's.”[24]

His body lay in State at Greenwich in the “Painted Hall” (then called the “Painted Chamber”) from Sunday the 5th of January until the 8th. Owing to Divine Service not being finished, a written notice was posted up, that the public could not be admitted until 11. a.m.; by which time many thousands of people were assembled. Punctually at that hour, the doors were thrown open, and, though express orders had been given that only a limited number should be admitted at once, yet the mob was so great as to bear down everything in its way. Nothing could be heard but shrieks and groans, as several persons were trodden under foot and greatly hurt. One man had his right eye literally torn out, by coming into contact with one of the gate-posts. Vast numbers of ladies and gentlemen lost their shoes, hats, shawls, &c., and the ladies fainted in every direction.

The Hall was hung with black cloth, and lit up with twenty-eight Silver Sconces, with two wax candles in each—a light which, in that large Hall, must have only served to make darkness visible. High above the Coffin hung a canopy of black velvet festooned with gold, and by the coffin was the Hero's Coronet. Shields of Arms were around, and, at back, was a trophy, which was surmounted by a gold shield, encircled by a wreath having upon it “Trafalgar” in black letters.

The bringing of the body from Greenwich to Whitehall by water, must have been a most impressive sight—and one not likely to be seen again, owing to the absence of rowing barges. That which headed the procession bore the Royal Standard, and carried a Captain and two Lieutenants in full uniform, with black waistcoats, breeches, and stockings, and crape round their hats and arms.

In the second barge were the Officers of Arms, bearing the Shield, Sword, Helm, and Crest, of the deceased, and the great banner was borne by Captain Moorsom, supported by two lieutenants.

The third barge bore the body, and was rowed by forty-six men from Nelson's flag-ship the Victory. This barge was covered with black velvet, and black plumes, and Clarencieux King-at-Arms sat at the head of the coffin, bearing a Viscount's Coronet, upon a black velvet cushion.

In the fourth barge came the Chief Mourner, Admiral Sir Peter Parker, with many assistant Mourners and Naval grandees.

Then followed His Majesty's barge, that of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, the Lord Mayor's barge, and many others; and they all passed slowly up the silent highway, to the accompaniment of minute guns, the shores being lined with thousands of spectators, every man with uncovered head. All traffic on the river was suspended, and the deck, yards, masts, and rigging of every vessel were crowded with men.

The big guns of the Tower boomed forth, and similar salutes accompanied the mournful train to Whitehall, from whence the body was taken, with much solemnity, to the Admiralty, there to lie till the morrow.

NELSON'S FUNERAL CAR.

His resting-place was not fated to be that of his choice. “Victory, or Westminster Abbey,” he cried, forgetful that the Nation had apportioned the Abbey to be the Pantheon of Genius, and St. Paul's to be the Valhalla of Heroes—and to the latter he was duly borne.

I refrain from giving the programme of the procession, because of its length, which may be judged by the fact, that the first part left the Admiralty at 11 a.m., and the last of the mourning coaches a little before three. The Procession may be divided into three parts: the Military, the funeral Pageant proper, and the Mourners. There were nearly 10,000 regular soldiers, chiefly composed of those who had fought in Egypt, and knew of Nelson; and this was a large body to get together, when the means of transport were very defective—a great number of troops in Ireland, and a big European War in progress, causing a heavy drain upon the Army. The Pageant was as brave as could be made, with pursuivants and heralds, standards and trumpets, together with every sort of official procurable, and all the nobility, from the younger sons of barons, to George Prince of Wales, who was accompanied by the Dukes of Clarence and Kent. The Dukes of York and Cambridge headed the Procession, and the Duke of Sussex made himself generally useful by first commanding his regiment of Loyal North Britons, and then riding to St. Paul's on his chestnut Arabian. The Mourners, besides the relatives of the deceased, consisted of Naval Officers, according to their rank—the Seniors nearest the body; and, to give some idea of the number of those who followed Nelson to the grave, there were one hundred and eighty-four Mourning Coaches, which came after the Body, which was carried on a triumphal car, fashioned somewhat after his flag-ship the Victory —the accompanying illustration of which I have taken from the best contemporary engraving I could find.

The whole of the Volunteer Corps of the Metropolis, and its vicinity, were on duty all day, to keep the line of procession.

At twenty-three and a half minutes past five the coffin containing Nelson's mortal remains was lowered into its vault. Garter King-at-Arms had pronounced his style and duly broken his staff, and then the huge procession, which had taken so much trouble and length of time to prepare, melted, and each man went his way; the car being taken to the King's Mews, where it remained for a day or two, until it was removed to the grand hall at Greenwich—and the Hero, or rather his grave, was converted into a sight for which money was taken.

“EPIGRAM,

ON THE SHAMEFUL EXHIBITION AT ST. PAUL'S.

Brave Nelson  was doubtless a lion in war,
With terror his enemies filling;

But now he is dead, they are safe from his paw,
And the Lion  is shewn  for a shilling.”[25]

“THE INVITATION.

Lo! where the relics of brave Nelson  lie!
And, lo! each heart with saddest sorrow weeping!

Come then, ye throng, and gaze with anxious eye—
But, ah! remember, you must—pay  for peeping.”[26]

The cost of this funeral figures, in the expenses of the year, at £14,698 11s. 6d.

Yet another death: the great Statesman, William Pitt , who had been sinking for some time, paid the debt of Nature on the 23rd of January. Parliament voted him, by a majority of 258 to 89, a public funeral, and sepulture in Westminster Abbey; and also a sum not exceeding £40,000 was voted, without opposition, to pay his debts.

He lay in state, in the Painted Chamber of the Palace of Westminster, on the 20th and 21st of February, and people flocked to the sight—19,800 persons passing through in the six hours the doors were kept open; or, in other words, they entered and went out at the rate of fifty-five a minute. This average was exceeded next day, when the number of visitors rose to 27,000, or seventy-five a minute.

Of course the accessories of this funeral, which took place on the 22nd of February, were nothing like so gorgeous as at that of Nelson; but there was a vast amount of State, and the Dukes of York, Cumberland, and Cambridge, were among the long line of the Nobility who paid their last respects to William Pitt. The cost of the funeral was £6,045 2s. 6d.

It would be without precedent to allow the year to pass without a Fast, so one was ordered for the 26th of February. The Houses of Lords and Commons attended Church, so did the Volunteers. Also “The Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, &c., attended Divine Service at St. Paul's, from whence they returned to the Mansion House—where they dined.”

The Copper Coinage having, during the King's long reign, become somewhat deteriorated, a proclamation of His Majesty's appeared in the Gazette  of the 10th of May, for a New Coinage of 150 tons of penny pieces, 427½ tons of halfpenny pieces, and twenty-two and a half tons of farthings. The penny pieces were to be in the proportion of twenty-four to the pound, avoirdupois, of copper, and so on with the others. It was provided that no one should be obliged to take more of such penny pieces, in one payment, than shall be of the value of one shilling, or more of such halfpence and farthings than shall be of the value of sixpence.

This year witnessed the singular sight of a Parliamentary Impeachment. Lord Melville was accused on ten different counts, and his trial commenced on the 29th of April; Westminster Hall being fitted up for the occasion. The three principal charges against him were—“First, that before January 10, 1786, he had applied to his private use and profit, various sums of public money entrusted to him, as Treasurer of the Navy. Secondly, that in violation of the Act of Parliament, for better regulating that office, he had permitted Trotter, his paymaster, illegally to take from the Bank of England, large sums of the money issued on account of the Treasurer of the Navy, and to place those sums in the hands of his private banker, in his own name, and subject to his sole control and disposition. Thirdly, that he had fraudulently and corruptly permitted Trotter to apply the said money to purposes of private use and emolument, and had, himself, fraudulently and corruptly derived profit therefrom.”

Of course Lord Melville pleaded “not guilty,” and this was the verdict of his peers.

On the 10th of June, the Abolition of the Slave Trade again passed the House of Commons, by a majority of ninety-nine. On the 24th of June the Lords debated on the same subject, and they carried, without a division, an address to His Majesty, “praying that he would be graciously pleased to consult with other Powers towards the accomplishment of the same end,” which would afford another opportunity to those who were anxious again to divide upon this question.

On the 13th of September of this year died Pitt's great rival, Charles James Fox, a man who, had he lived in these times, would have been a giant Statesman. For him, however, no public funeral, no payment by the nation of his debts—this latter probably because in the accounts for the year figure two items of expenditure: “For secret services for 1806, £175,000,” and “For the seamen who served in the Battle of Trafalgar, £300,000.” He was buried on the 10th of October in Westminster Abbey, and the funeral, under the direction of his friend, Sheridan, was a very pompous affair—though, of course, it lacked the glitter of a State ceremonial. Still there were the King's Trumpeters and Soldiers, whilst the Horse and Foot Guards and Volunteers lined the way. So he was carried to his grave in the Abbey—which, curiously, was dug within eighteen inches of his old opponent, Pitt. The relation between the two is well summed up by a contemporary writer. “We may pronounce of them, that, as rivals for power and for fame, their equals have not been known in this country, and perhaps in none were there two such Statesman, in so regular and equal a contention for pre-eminence. In the advantages of birth and fortune they were equal; in eloquence, dissimilar in their manner, but superior to all their contemporaries; in influence upon the minds of their hearers equal; in talents and reputation, dividing the nation into two parties of nearly equal strength; in probity, above all suspicion; in patriotism rivals, as in all things else.”[27]

It must not be thought that the year passed by without attempts being made to stop the war. They were begun by a charming act of international courtesy and friendship on the part of Fox, which cannot be better told than in his own words, contained in a letter to Talleyrand.

Downing Street, February 20, 1806.

Sir ,—I think it my duty, as an honest man, to communicate to you, as soon as possible, a very extraordinary circumstance which is come to my knowledge. The shortest way will be to relate to you the fact simply as it happened.

“A few days ago a person informed me that he was just arrived at Gravesend without a passport, requesting me at the same time to send him one, as he had lately left Paris, and had something to communicate to me which would give me satisfaction. I sent for him; he came to my house the following day. I received him alone in my closet; when, after some unimportant conversation, this villain had the audacity to tell me, that it was necessary for the tranquillity of all crowned heads, to put to death the Ruler of France; and that, for this purpose, a house had been hired at Passy, from which this detestable project could be carried into effect with certainty, and without risk. I did not perfectly understand if it was to be done by a common musket, or by fire-arms upon a new principle.

“I am not ashamed to tell you, Sir, who know me, that my confusion was extreme, in thus finding myself led into  a conversation with an avowed assassin. I instantly ordered him to leave me, giving, at the same time, orders to the police officer who accompanied him, to send him out of the kingdom as soon as possible.

“It is probable that all this is unfounded, and that the wretch had nothing more in view than to make himself of consequence, by promising what, according to his ideas, would afford me satisfaction.

“At all events, I thought it right to acquaint you with what had happened, before I sent him away. Our laws do not permit us to detain him long; but he shall not be sent away till after you shall have had full time to take precautions against his attempts, supposing him still to entertain bad designs; and, when he goes, I shall take care to have him landed at a seaport as remote as possible from France.

“He calls himself here, Guillet de la Gevrilliere, but I think it is a false name which he has assumed.

“At his first entrance I did him the honour to believe him to be a spy.

“I have the honour to be, with the most perfect attachment,

“Sir,

“Your most obedient servant,

C. J. Fox.”

I have given this letter in extenso, to show how a Gentleman  of the grand Old School could act towards an enemy—feeling himself dishonoured by even conversing with a murderous traitor. It was chivalrous and manly, and well merited Napoleon's remarks, contained in Talleyrand's reply: “I recognize here the principles of honour and of virtue, by which Mr. Fox has ever been actuated. Thank him on my part.”

This episode is the most agreeable one in the whole of the papers in connection with the negotiations for peace at that time. The King fully entered into the reasons why these proposals did not come to a successful issue, in a Declaration, dated October 21st, which, with many other papers, was laid before Parliament on December 22nd.

If “Rien n'est sacré pour un Sapeur,” it is the same with the Caricaturist. Here were men presumably doing their honest best to promote peace, and do away with a war that was exhausting all Europe; yet the satirist takes it jauntily. Take only one, the Caricature by Ansell (August, 1806). “The Pleasing and Instructive Game of Messengers ; or, Summer Amusement for John Bull.” Balls, in the shape of Messengers, are being sent and returned, in lively succession, across the Channel; their errands are of a most extraordinary character. “Peace—Hope—Despair. No Peace—Passports—Peace to a certainty—No Peace—Credentials—Despatches, &c.” Napoleon and Talleyrand like the game. “Begar, Talley, dis be ver amusant. Keep it up as long as you can, so that we may have time for our project.” John Bull merely looks on, leaving Fox, Sheridan, and the Ministry, to play the game on his behalf; and, in reply to a query by Fox, “Is it not a pretty game, Johnny?” the old man replies, with a somewhat puzzled air, “Pretty enough as to that—they do fly about monstrous quick, to be sure; but you don't get any more money out of my pocket for all that!”

The failure of these pacific negotiations with France, brought a rejoinder from the French Emperor, which, to use a familiar expression made John Bull “set his back up.” It was no less than a proclamation of Napoleon's, dated Berlin, November 21, 1806, in which, he attempted, on paper, to blockade England. The principal articles in this famous proclamation are as follow:—

1. The British Isles are declared to be in a state of blockade.

2. All trade and communication with Great Britain is strictly prohibited.

3. All letters going to, or coming from England, are not to be forwarded, and all those written in English are to be suppressed.

4. Every individual, who is a subject of Great Britain, is to be made a prisoner of war, wherever he may be found.

5. All goods belonging to Englishmen are to be confiscated, and the amount paid to those who have suffered through the detention of ships by the English.

6. No ships coming from Great Britain, or having been in a port of that country, are to be admitted.

7. All trade in English Goods is rigorously prohibited.

Besides these startling facts, the time allowed for the delivery of all English property was limited to the space of twenty-four hours after the issue of the Proclamation; and if, after that time, any persons were discovered to have secreted, or withheld, British goods, or articles, of any description, they were to be subjected to military execution. The British subjects who were arrested in Hamburgh, and had not escaped, were ordered to Verdun, or the interior of France, as Prisoners of War.

This was enough to close all hopes of reconciliation, and, although the English Newspapers took a courageous view of the blockade, and attempted to laugh at its ever being practicable to carry out, yet it undoubtedly created great uneasiness, and intensified the bitter feeling between the belligerents.

This, then, was the position of affairs at the end of 1806. Consols, during the year, varied from 61 in January to 59 in December, having in July reached 66½.

The quartern loaf was fairly firm all the year, beginning at 11¾d. and ending at 1s. 1d. Average price of wheat 52s.


[23]Morning Post, January 8, 1806.

[24]Morning Post, January 3, 1806.

[25]Morning Post, January 26, 1806

[26]Ibid., January 21, 1806.

[27]Annual Register, vol. xlviii. p. 916.