Concluding our John Wilkes Story

THE END – 1788-1797

WHEN the king was taken ill, and it seemed unlikely that he would recover his reason, Wilkes passed through a period of much anxiety.  For him the political situation was full of menace.  If a Regency were established it was probable that he would lose his seat in Parliament, and possibly be deposed from the office of Chamberlain.  From his point of view it was most important that the Prince of Wales should not be invested with the royal authority, for in such a contingency it was inevitable that Fox would come into power.  Although still claiming a nominal independence, Wilkes’s political fortunes were bound up with those of Pitt and the Tories, and it was certain that his old allies would be glad to punish him for his apostasy.1

During the three months that the king’s malady was at its height, Polly Wilkes was staying in Paris on a long visit to her old friend, Madame La Valliere, Duchesse de Chastillon, and all through the momentous winter she received the latest bulletins from her father, who was ever on the watch for news of the royal invalid.  Upon each favourable symptom he dwelt joyously, as though he were announcing the convalescence of a beloved relative, “thanking Heaven” when there was improvement, exulting greatly when the patient slept or was able to take food. “The stories of the King, Queen, and youngest Princess,” he

          1.  Wilkes joined with Fox in opposing the Shop Tax in [1787], Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. lvii., Part I, p144

wrote in a burst of feeling, “are so affecting that I have not courage to transcribe them.”  A very different Wilkes indeed this sentimentalist who paid “the voluntary tribute of tears” to the pathos of royal domesticity from the malicious author of “No. 45.” The jest of his revolutionary days that “he loved the King so well that he hoped never to see another” no longer had a double meaning.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 21 –  The End

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