May 14, 2015

George I

George I

Unfortunately George I couldn”€™t speak English. He had rehearsed a little speech to make when he landed in England, to reassure the English that he had come for the good of all. He got the grammar mangled though, and proclaimed: “€œI haff come for all your goods!”€

Unable to follow the debates of his ministers in the council chamber, George got bored and stopped showing up. Walpole, already the alpha male among the King’s advisers, took over the vacant chair. (His private conversations with George were conducted in what each could remember of school Latin. Since both Walpole and the King were lousy scholars, this must have been something to hear.)

Walpole was a piece of work: a big, hearty, back-slapping man with a great rolling laugh. “€œIn all occurrences, and at all times, and in all difficulties, he was constantly cheerful,”€ said a colleague. He was a heavy drinker; but, like Ulysses S. Grant at war, he was always cold sober when there was serious business to be done.

Dr. Johnson said of Walpole that “€œhe always talked bawdy at his table, because in that all could join.”€ At least one American President seems to have been of the same disposition.  When Vernon Jordan was asked what he and Bill Clinton talked about when playing golf, Jordan replied: “€œWe talk pussy.”€ Walpole’s combination of political skill and personal crudity is very Clintonian.

Walpole’s proudest boast was to have kept Britain out of wars for a quarter of a century. He told George II’s queen in 1734: “€œMadam, there are fifty thousand men slain this year in Europe and not one Englishman.”€

Peace gets boring to the masses, though. Five years later, Walpole was maneuvered against his will into war with Spain”€”an absurd war with an absurd name: The War of Jenkin’s Ear. Watching the frenzied celebrations in the streets of London, Walpole muttered: “€œAh! They are ringing the bells today, but they will soon be wringing their hands.”€  He lost his position soon afterwards.

I think I would have liked Walpole. Cameron I can”€™t like: the vapid rhetoric, simulated emotions, and reflexive political correctness all stick in my throat. Still, if he delivers an entire generation of peace and prosperity to his countrymen, as Sir Robert Walpole did, the Brits will look back with satisfaction on Thursday’s decision.


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