King George IV

King George IV, National Portrait Gallery


(12th August, 1762 – 26th June, 1830)

OUR late illustrious Monarch has not been numbered with the dead ten short months, and yet what an age of oblivion seems to have passed over us! A new King, a new Court, all Europe perplexed with the aspect of fearful change, and our own country absorbed in national questions of the most vital consequence.—This is a striking lesson, for humanity to learn how soon the mighty who fall can be forgotten, amid the cares and turmoil of the surviving multitude.

Already has the press thrown out its various biographies of George the Fourth—in splendid diction, in politica bias, in common-place, in ignorance and error, and in shameless malice—but all the writers have laboured under the same disadvantage : where truth has been their object, their view was too near to comprehend the whole, and too partial to be just. Future history alone can present to the world the character of our magnificent Sovereign, as it really existed, and ought to be contemplated: when the near period of trifles, and anecdotes, and fallacies, and misrepresentations, has been cleared of its encumbrances, the lasting monument will be seen in all its magnitude and splendour, and the petty microscopic criticisms of contemporary littleness will be lost in the grand and dazzling circle of glory, which surrounds the twenty-years' reign of our Regent and King.

But we are ourselves in the very position to which we have alluded, and we cannot pretend more than others to the ability of drawing a fair and accurate likeness of his late Majesty. The facts 'of his life it would be easy to repeat from the common chronicles of the times; but the lights which illustrate them, the springs, the circumstances, the motives, the controlling causes, on which the actions of the high as well as of the low depend, are yet to be revealed to the acute, the patient, and the impartial investigator. What will be the result upon minute and insulated points, we know not ; but we feel convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that for all the great qualities of man and monarch, in heart and in head, the memory of George the. Fourth will deserve to be cherished by generations of Britons yet unborn. Under his sceptre England rose to a height of prosperity and renown so transcendent, that we are forced to look upon it, in the midst of our exultation, with a mingled degree of dread lest it should be the topmost tower and pinnacle of our country's proud elevation.

We will not, however, enlarge upon the topics connected either with the personal or political career of the King : with a few words and dates devoted to the principal events, we trust we shall better consult the taste of our readers, by devoting our brief memoir to the notice of his munificent patronage of literature and the arts. Wars, and victories, and treaties, and legislation, and courtly paraphernalia, are the usual landmarks by which the reign of every prince may be traced ; but the few who cultivate and promote those things which adorn civilization, who are the friends to learning, to science, and to the fine arts, seek and find a far more honored and imperishable fame. Among these, George the Fourth occupies a preeminent station. But before we enter upon the subject, we give, as proposed, a mere sketch of the Royal life.

GEORGE AUGUSTUS FREDERICK was born in St. James's Palace on the 12th of August, 1762, and was brought up with all the anxious attention due to one of so high a destiny, upon whose character it was likely that the happiness of millions might depend. It has been held by many writers, that the restraints of his education were more strict than judicious; but it is a difficult matter to determine, d posteriori, whether the ebullitions of temperament, rank, and youth were excited or repressed by habits of previous order and discipline. Be this as it might, the Prince, relieved from tutelage, rushed with headlong avidity into the dissipations so profusely spread before him. The fabled example of Hercules, it was not his fate to follow; perhaps, in the real world it would have been too much to expect that it should. At all events, he must be 'a rigid censor indeed, who, calmly and candidly weighing the whole case, can severely blame him for yielding to the manic allurements of pleasure. At the age of eighteen, the first memorable draught of the cup of Circe was openly quaffed, in an amour with the celebrated Perdita, Mrs. Mary Robinson a lovely though misguided woman ; but, according to our slight and limited plan, with such connexions we have fortunately little concern.

At the age of twenty-one, the Prince was one of the most elegant and accomplished men in Europe. In person and countenance eminently handsome, in manners fascinating, and richly gifted in the endowments of mind ; he was a well-read classical scholar, conversant with polite literature, and spoke with fluency several of the living languages ; his taste was refined, and in music he was not only a skilful amateur, but an excellent performer. What a scene must society have unfolded to such a being !—we can hardly look back through the long vista of time upon it, through the funeral gloom of Windsor Castle in April last, and not wonder that the intoxication and delusion of the hour were not even greater than they were.

But we proceed with our dates. In early times, extravagance, it must be admitted, frequently embarrassed the Prince's affairs, and the grant of means to relieve them came under parliamentary discussion. During the first illness of his Father, his political friends made a strenuous effort to have the supreme authority of the state vested in him, but it was successfully resisted by Mr. Pitt. In process of time, an accommodation of the principles which created differences in the Royal Family was effected, and his Royal Highness, on the 8th of April, 1795, was married to his cousin, the Princess Caroline of Brunswick—a union ultimately productive of intolerable wretchedness to the parties, and of much moral injury and danger to England.
On the 7th of January of the following year, the Princess Charlotte was born ; and immediately afterwards, the Prince and Princess of Wales virtually separated, though their mutual aversion did not become notorious till 1804, when the right to the guardianship and charge of their interesting daughter involved a contest of greater discord and acrimony. The result is well known ; his Majesty undertook the care of the child, and her mother retired from the palace to a country residence. 1805 and 1806 were painfully distinguished by the rumours of misconduct on the part of her Royal Highness, and the proceedings of the Commission appointed to inquire into their validity. The Princess was in the end partially and equivocally restored to her station ; but it was only to be made the miserable tool of party, and to suffer the most mortifying indignities, till, in August, 1814, she quitted the country, for the relief of foreign travel.

On the 2nd of May, 1816, the Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold, and died in giving birth to a dead child on the 6th of November, 1817; a calamity which produced a strong and lasting impression upon her bereaved Father.

In June, 1820), a few months after he had ascended the throne, his tranquillity was farther invaded by the hostile return of the Queen. The ferment which ensued can never be forgotten. For more than twelve months the land was a prey to disorder and faction ; and the most appalling consequences were but too justly apprehended. The coronation of the King, however, was appointed for the 19th of July, 1821, on which solemn occasion his Consort was excluded from the ceremony. Stung with rage and disappointment, she endeavoured to force an entrance, but found herself deserted by the fickle populace, whose love of the gorgeous spectacle readily overcame their attachment to their idol of the preceding week. She never rallied from this neglect, and was happily released by death from all her sorrows on the 7th of the ensuing month of August ; and from this date only could it be thought that the King, notwithstanding the glories which had shed such brilliant lustre on his government, enjoyed comparative repose. The thorn had rankled in his breast amid the loftiest and the sweetest hours of gratification, when entertaining the rulers of the earth, or meeting the loyal affections of his people ; that thorn was now removed for ever, and, like the steed relieved from an intolerable burden, he appeared to resume his course with renovated spirit and energy. Before we mention his immediate visit to Ireland, we will bring up the train of public affairs, which we have overstepped in this summary of family history.

On the second illness of George the Third, the regency question was again debated, and the final determination of the Lords and Commons placed the reins of government in the hands of the Heir-apparent, with certain temporary restrictions. On the 5th of February, 1811, his Royal Highness assumed this authority, and continued his Father's ministers in office. Within about three months, their chief, Mr. Perceval, was assassinated; but neither that melancholy event, nor the succession to the unrestricted Regency in 1812, led to any alteration in the policy of the country. Every measure prospered in his hands. 1814 will ever be remarkable in our history for the visit of the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia, the Heroes who had fought their battles against universal despotism, and the enlightened Statesmen and Princes of the Continent—nor less for the magnificence with which they were entertained by One, who well understood how to maintain the dignity and illustrate the hospitality of Great Britain. 1815 was crowned by the victory of Waterloo, in which the glories of Agincourt and Cressy were revived. On the 29th of January, 1820, it pleased the Almighty to take the venerable and venerated George the Third, after nearly ten years' seclusion from his grateful subjects ; and on the same day his successor was proclaimed. In July, 1821, as we have noticed, his coronation took place ; and three weeks after, his Majesty sailed for Ireland. His reception was most animating : immediately on his return he again embarked for Calais, whence he travelled to his German dominions, and was crowned King of Hanover. In the ensuing year, 182'2, Scotland was honoured and delighted with a similar visit ; and no description can paint the popular and national enthusiasm created by these royal progresses. Every device which loyalty and heartfelt attachment could invent was lavished on each occasion ; and never was seen in any country a more cheering spectacle of a united King and People.

We stop for one moment to observe, that whether it apply to the Princes to whom we have referred ; to our northern Bard, the first poet of the age ; to the eminent Painter, whom we have recently lost ; to Canova, the celebrated sculptor, who visited this country in 1815 ; or to any other person eminent in arts or in literature—he gratified them all by the graceful manner of his reception, and by the taste and tact which he evinced in adapting his conversation to those subjects with which h they were be acquainted.
From the period of his visit to Scotland, his Majesty, probably from experiencing some of the inconveniences and infirmities of are, courted retirement, and seldom appeared in public. Thus nearly eight years rolled on, and at length the time appointed came—that time when the crowned monarch and the lowly. hind are equal. Upon his last birth-day, his Majesty, with filial piety, laid the foundation for a monument, surmounted by an equestrian statue, to the memory of his revered Father, at the end of that magnificent avenue, usually called the Long Walk of Windsor Park. On the 12th of April, he himself rode for the last time in that beautiful domain. Thence to the 26th of June he suffered much bodily pain with fortitude, equanimity, and resignation ; and about three o'clock of the morning of that day, in consequence of bursting a blood-vessel, he expired, exclaiming faintly, " This is Death."

Having shortly traced the chequered events of his late Majesty's political and personal course, we now address ourselves to the unclouded view of his bright career, as connected with the humanities of life, and the patronage of all that ennobles our nature. It is, perhaps, one of the chief blots upon the long line of illustrious Sovereigns who have worn the Crown of England, that so very few have been distinguished by the love of letters and the arts. Glorious warriors, chivalrous and heroic knights, sagacious and prudent statesmen, amiable men, and prosperous rulers, we can boast, to an extent not surpassed by any other nation in the world ; but an Alfred and an Edward are all that can be mentioned, from the foundation of the monarchy to the period of the Stuarts, with reference to those illustrious qualifications, which plant the brightest and most lasting gems in the kingly coronet. The period of the unfortunate race of the Stuarts, whatever were their political sins, is proudly pre-eminent in the annals of history, for the encouragement of every refining pursuit. In Scotland, ere they reached the united crown, they adorned the age with literature and poesy. And in England we have only to look around, and say of them, as was said of the immortal architect whom they patronized, "Si monumentum quaeris, circumspice." From St. Paul's, to Whitehall and Greenwich, how many noble edifices proclaim their taste and magnificence ! Less obvious to the general view, the admirable sculpture of the same epoch is to be found in many public and private places ; and the memory of the painters' art is yet widely preserved, in despite of that calamity which dispersed the splendid collection of the first Charles. After the death of his son, a century almost blank, as regards the progress or even the cultivation of the fine arts, ensued.

Under George the Third they began to revive. The Royal Academy was established with the countenance and favour of his Majesty ; and artists, of high genius and well-deserved celebrity, sprung up to assert the claims of Britain to an honorable rank among civilized nations. Instead of an unfrequent and insulated individual, rising merely as it were to keep alive the spark of a native school, the country saw with pride and satisfaction, a numerous and congregated body of great and various talents, producing works of every class which could illustrate the leading walks of art. The grandeur of design, the magic of colour, the sweetness of landscape, the potent Another and a memorable boon was conferred upon our fine arts in 1824, by the formation of a National Gallery. At the suggestion of the King, the splendid collection of Mr. Angerstein was purchased for the country ; and a most auspicious commencement was made of an establishment which we might blush to think we had been so long behind other nations in accomplishing. Inferior and poor governments, all over the Continent of Europe, were familiar with what England, notwithstanding all her riches and power, had neglected : it was for her patriot King to redeem her from this scandal.

Hitherto, but the period is comparatively short, the National Gallery has not, with one or two gratifying exceptions.* taken the prominent course we anticipated. There should have been a magnificent receptacle opened for the exhibition of the nation's property in art, to the people and to foreigners. Instead of this, a private house, ill-lighted, and every way unsuited to the display, has been assigned for this purpose : and at one time, from the alterations making in its vicinity, it was in danger of falling, and burying all it contained in its rubbish Asssuredly we yield to strange ideas in matters of this kind_ We have here a collection of great worth, which would be increased by continual and invaluable donations, worthy d a happy pilgrimmage, to travel from the farthest corners of the earth to see it We have public ground unoccupied in the fittest part of the Metropolis, or a palace, such as Buckingham House, ready for its reception ; yet, with a parsimony not to be reconciled with comprehensive policy, the whole grand prospect is sacrificed to the mere expedients of temporary legislation. We trust, that when the ferment of the moment is over, William the Fourth will direct and witness the completion of what George the Fourth so wisely and gloriously began ; and which was also a favourite project of his revered Father, George the Third.

Sir George Beaumont's bequest of sixteen fine paintings, and gifts from private individuals, sc. are the best comment on this point ; and no one can doubt, had the National Gallery existed, but that the Dulwich and Fitzwilliam collections would have enriched it. While we are writing, we hear that a more splendid collection of Italian pictures, of the old masters, has been bequeathed to the nation by the late Mr. Holwell Carr.

We have mentioned, in the early part of this memoir, that, in the younger period of his life, George the Fourth was considered extravagant, and that his pecuniary affairs had become embarrassed in consequence ; his enemies have also applied, though unjustly, the same accusation to his more mature years ; but they have omitted to accompany such accusations with that which, even if they had been true, would surely have been a sufficient palliative—that the greater part of his expense was appropriated to purposes in which the national interest was more considered than any private gratification of his own.

He made by his own rood taste, assisted, we believe, with the advice of Lord Farnborough, one of the finest collections of the works of the Dutch and Flemish school, that is now to be found in Europe. " We have lost," he used to say, " the magnificent collection of Charles the First; I will do what I can to supply its place:" and when this beautiful assemblage of works of art had been completed, " I have not formed it," he observed, " for my own pleasure alone, but to gratify the public taste, and lay before the artist the best specimens for his study." It was accordingly exhibited for two years successively, at the Gallery of the British Institution, and it will descend, as the property of the crown, to our future Sovereigns. We have heard with great satisfaction, that our present gracious King, William the Fourth, has had under consideration the best mode of exhibiting it for the benefit of the public.
But, however we may approve of forming such collections, we should not have felt that George the Fourth deserved that full meed of praise, which is so justly due to him, if his views had not been directed still more to the encouragement of native talent, than to the possession of the productions of ancient masters, however judiciously selected. Upon this point we might refer to the names of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Mr.Wilkie, Mr. Bone, Mr. Chantrey, Mr.Westmacott, and to many others, sculptors, painters, and architects, who produced their finest works under the influence of his munificent patronage.
But grand designs, however becoming in a monarch, and however beneficial, even in a commercial and mercantile light, to the country, are not the surest indications of his genuine affection for the fine arts. The bounty of George the Fourth flowed in a thousand streams, as well as in the abundance of these magnificent rivers. Where the individual artist showed superior talent, or where the unfortunate artist fell a prey to distress, the Majesty of England, toiling beneath all the burdens of empire, was curiously apt to hear the whisper of promise in the one, and the sigh of misfortune in the other. How many instances could we cite, of his cheering on the former by praise and essential encouragement—of his lifting up the latter from the abyss of wretchedness, by truly royal succour.

We have read with pain several estimates of his late Majesty's character, given forth with pretensions of the utmost candour and justice : but we declare we have not discovered in one of them an honest statement of his illustrious humanity in this respect. The 'writers appear to hare been ignorant of the facts, ignorant of a disposition which would have redeemed even a tyrant from obloquy, but which only added a splendour to our patriot Sovereign. Whatever might intervene between George the Fourth and his impulses, (and kings cannot control events) we will assert a truth , to which future history will do justice, that in his first impressions and emotions there never was a heart more generous and good than that of the Monarch to whom those remarks apply.

It was in the minute as well as in the superb., that the King shone; and in estimating the actions of a sovereign, we could wish it to be observed. that it is far more trite to perform what is great than what Simply benevolent. The one is an affair of state; the other is the man ! The Whole life of George the Fourth was brilliant with these delightful traits. Having read in a literary journal, that Muss, the celebrated enamel painter, had died poor, and left a widow in limited circumstances ; he ascertained the fact, and on the following day sent her fifteen hundred pounds for the copy of a picture. He heard of the monument proposed to be erected to the memory of our mechanical boast, James Watt, and immediately gave five
hundred pounds to the design. The head of a people, whose manufactures pervade the habitable globe, could not miss such an opportunity of evincing a community of sentiment in honor of worth and intelligence.
With equal liberality and right feeling, he himself ordered a monument to be erected at St. Germain's, where the bones of James the Second were transferred to a final tomb. When the famous sculptor, Canova, visited England, his Majesty received him most graciously, and gave him a commission for a Mausoleum to Cardinal York, the last of this ill-fated family—and for a number of beautiful sculptures. And in 1815, when the conquered treasures of the Louvre were restored to their original possessors, the disinterested and princely nature of our King was manifested in a way of which his people might well be proud. That statue which astonishes the world, the Apollo, was placed at the disposal of his Majesty, partly in gratitude for services of inestimable import, and partly from the difficulty of re-conveying it to Italy; and though it was a prize to be envied by the whole world, our magnanimous Sovereign not only refused the gift, but undertook the task of having it safely transported to the site of its old inspiration.

We record these few, of many cases, not as demanding for them a homage more than is due, but merely to illustrate the character of the Prince, whose spontaneous feelings ever led him to do that which was intrinsically virtuous and extrinsically glorious. In the same spirit he took a warm interest in all the benevolent Institutions for the support of decayed artists. In the same spirit, he munificently contributed to that blessed charity. " The Literary Fund," through which the miseries of the unfortunate children of the pen are so promptly and prudently relieved.* In the same spirit, he in 1822 gave his support to the project of a National Record of our Military Achievements, to be embellished with all that art could perform.

* His late Majesty gave two hundred guineas annually to this benevolent Institution ; and we lament to hear that his present Majesty has been obliged to reduce the grant to one-half, as well as to postpone its date.

In the same spirit, in 1823, he sanctioned the address from Parliament for the reprint of a series of our ancient historians. In the same spirit, in 1825, he awarded two royal medals, annually, to the Royal Society, as premiums to promote the objects of the Institution—they were to reward the most useful discoveries, or series of investigations, completed to the satisfaction of the President and Council, within the preceding year.
But why should we record these instances :—wherever the fine arts, wherever the sciences, wherever literature, wherever charity and benevolence, wherever objects of public utility were concerned, George the Fourth was at their head and in their heart. His was not mere nominal patronage, but an inquisitive and well-regulated sympathy ; promoting, with the weight of the crown. all that was really good, and judiciously abating what was undeserving. And let it be understood, that no ministers or advisers of a king can do thus—it must depend upon himself. To play so laudable a part, be must be able to penetrate deeply into the motives of men, through the mists of his high and distant position : and after he has solved the mysteries  of seeming, he must feel rightly, to act as George the Fourth acted winning the love and applause of all within the sphere of his gracious kindnesses, ever rendered doubly grate-fall by the manner in which they were conferred.

Adverting more particularly to his Majesty's wish to advance the learning of England, we ought to distinguish the foundation of the Royal Society of Literature, which originated entirely in his own breast, and which he so nobly endowed. Convinced that with all our institutions for the promotion of distinct branches of knowledge, and with all the public encouragement of well-digested schemes of improvement, there was yet ample room for a royal and beneficial association directed to purposes to which no preceding body or common principle applied ; his Majesty communicated to the venerable Bishop of Salisbury his desire to form a Society of this description. From 1821 to the present time, approved and sustained by its illustrious founder, the Society has laid the ground-work of a lasting prosperity ; and through the beneficence of the Crown has been enabled to grant at once an honor and a recompense to ten of the most distinguished authors of the age, to whom a hundred guineas each per annum has been assigned from the fund of eleven hundred guineas vested in the Institution by the King. The remaining hundred guineas is expended on two golden medals, also annually voted to individuals who have produced some work of distinguished literary genius.

From what we have stated, it will be seen that his late Majesty must have expended a lame revenue upon the cultivation of the arts and literature ; and it is worthy of remark, that during all the recent parliamentary discussion of the civil list, not one syllable was uttered, either on one side or the other, in reference to this fact. Considering, as we do, such grants to be the brightest jewels in the monarch's crown, and the only true essentials of popularity and fame, we could not help being astonished at their exclusion from these debates. Earnestly do we hope that this does not portend any limitation of the Sovereign, to prevent his continuing in the splendid career of his predecessor. Such deeds are not kingly pleasures, so much as they are national benefits; and every well-informed subject must pray that no miserable and short-sighted economy may ever deprive Great Britain of those Corinthian features, which are not more the ornament than the strength of a people. We have expressed our sorrow that William the Fourth should have been under the necessity of reducing the royal patronage of the literary Fund, (we trust it is only temporary, till the civil list is settled ;) but we rejoice to know that Mr. Peel intimated to the Royal Society of Literature, his Majesty's intention to follow in the footsteps of its founder, his munificent brother, with regard to its endowment..

Another of the acts of his late Majesty, which will be a lasting memorial to his glory, was the present to the nation of the valuable and extensive Library, formed by his revered Father. Upwards of sixty-five thousand volumes, besides numerous pamphlets and tracts of geography and topography,were accordingly transferred to the British Museum, where a building worthy of the gift has been prepared for their reception. In this also, his Majesty's love of literature and of his country was conspicuously evinced—but why should we dwell on details, since his whole reign exhibited the same enlightened principles in one continued flow.

In victory by sea and land, in political aggrandisement, in wise legislation, his ministers may share the glory ; but in the encouragement of our native arts, in the patronage of literature, in the advance of science, and, above all, in the exercise of those feelings of humanity and benevolence which flow from the heart, George the Fourth stands alone entitled, in his own person and memory, to the love and admiration of his people.