VALENTINE MORRIS, Esq.
From The Times 5 September 1789 (http://archive.timesonline.co.uk/tol/archive/)
"They who remember him when he was improving the beauties, and excercising the hospitalities of Piercefield, will surely heave a sigh on the reflection , that he breathed his last, at a distance from, and no longer in possession of it. Nor can it fail to heighten the regret of humanity, when it is known that the latter days of a man, the greater part of whose life, and almost the whole of whose fortune, was exhausted in aggrandising the scenes of inanimate nature, and resining on the satisfactions of social life, should be passed under oppression, and in discouragement and in dependence.
That his misfortunes were, in a great measure, the offspring of his imprudence, or, in other words, that by an inconsiderate desire to make others happy, he at last rendered himself extremely wretched, is a circumstance that we must acknowledge and lament.
Mr Morris inherited the Piercefield Estate, which we believe to be about eight hundred pounds per ann. with a very large property in Antigua. His income was sufficient for all the purposes of elegant life, but did not prove sufficient for him. In improving the natural beauties of his Monmouthshire estate he refused no expence, and in rendering it universally acceptable to the numerous friends and crouds of strangers by whom it was visited he employed an hospitality which was bounteous beyond example. Persons of every rank were conducted with all possible convenience and the most respectful accomodation, through the long circuit of his terrestrial paradise, and had nothing to pay when they came to the end of it. Mr M. was, we believe, the first who abolished the odious tax which, some years ago were levied by servants on the visitors of their masters. Thus he lived for many years in a place which was more visited than any spot in the kingdom, and was visited by none who did not bear away with them a most respectful esteem for the owner of it.
In shall not dwell upon the uncertain nature of West Indian estates, which is a matter of such general notoriety. It is sufficient to relate that from an expensive mode of life in England, and an untoward succession of dry summers in Antigua , Mr Morris at length found himself in such an embarrassed situation, as to make it expedient for him to offer Piercefield for sale, and the late Lord Clive had actually consented to give 52,000l as the purchase of it, when he was appointed by the East India Company to return once more to to India, to settle the Administration of the Oriental possessions of the British Empire.
Successive and considerable proposals were made for the purchase of the property in question, but none of them being equal to the price which was set upon it, Mr Morris still continued, though in somewhat of a more confined scale, to preserve the elegant and hospitable character of the place.
The county of Monmouth was, certainly, very much indebted to him. Among many other popular and public acts, with a most indefatigable zeal, and, as we believe, at his own expence, he procured, by his personal interest and exertions, a bill to be passed in Parliament, which involved in it near three hundred miles of turnpike road in the county : by which act, instead of almost impassable ways, every principal town found itself in possession of a turnpike communication with the other principal towns of the county, and with the navigation of the river Severn.
Hence it was, that on a vacancy in the Parliamentary representation of Monmouthshire, he was persuaded to offer himself as a candidate on the occasion. All that personal popularity could do was done for him, but being most zealously opposed by many of the old established interests and commanding properties of the county, and being supported in a very lukewarm and doubtful manner by the leading powers of his own party, he failed of success, and the expences of this election, with other unpleasant circumstances that attended the loss of it, gave the final blow to the glory of Piercefield. Here, however, he would have been contented to live in humility and retirement, and satisfied with the pride of his place, would have given up all pride of his own, if he had not been controuled by an influence, he unfortunately, had never been able to resist, to which the goodness of his heart alone impelled him to yield, and which a humane delicacy, we trust it is, forbids us to explain.
Soon after he quitted the country, in the year 1772, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the island of St Vincent's, then a dependency, on the Government of Grenada; and in the year 1776, when the former Island was created into a separate and an independant Government, his Majesty, with every mark of gracious approbation of his conduct in a subordinate capacity, was pleased to appoint Mr. Morris the Governor of it.
Such an appointment was not only suitable to his disposition, but adapted to his interests, as it placed him in the vicinity of his West India property, and in a situation, as he might reasonably expect, which would enable him to discharge the incumbrances on it. But his future days seem to have been devoted to misfortune and disappointment.
At this time, the Island of St Vincent had not been long subject to the British Crown; most of the principal inhabitants retained a decided partiality for their former masters, and the troubles of America had a very serious aspect. Mr Morris was therefore, forbidden by his Majesty's Ministers to urge the payment of those duties out of which his English salary was to be provided, lest his Majesty should, on the refusal of it, be engaged in a dispute with the Assembly; and to further the views of the King's Ministers, with a zeal of rare example, he voluntarily waved the demanding of a salary from the Colony, the first grant a Governor is authorised to require; so that he was, in fact, a Governor without any salary at all. In short, he derived no emoluments from his situation, but certain grants of uncultivated lands, and the casual fees of his office, which his notions of justice, and the good of the public service, had rendered much less than those demanded by Governors of the other Islands; so that he actually found himself obliged, in order to support the dignity of his office, to discharge the debts of Government, and to carry on the necessary business of the Island, to lay additional burdens on his private property, instead of lessening the weight that already oppressed it, by the advantages of his station.
We cannot well form an idea of circumstances more unpleasant than those in which Governor Morris was, at this time, involved. The uncultivated parts of the island were inhabited by hostile Charibs, the cultivated parts were possessed by persons, the greater part of whom were secret enemies to the British Government. Hence it was, that, in exercising the duties of his commission, he was not only thwarted in secret, but opposed in public, and sometimes menaced and circumvented, while he was so far from receiving any support from home, that his official letters went unanswered, his information, which was the best that was received from that quarter during the war, was unacknowledged, his complaints were unredressed, and the bills drawn on Government for the necessary expenditure and support of the Island were returned protested, without any reason assigned for such conduct, without a single line of instruction, reproof, or prohibition. Still his romantic patriotism remained, and when no one would saw a plank on the credit of Great Britain, he engaged his personal security in order to carry on the public service, and to satisfy debt, so contracted, his whole property in St Vincent's has been since been taken upon execution, and sold at public auction.
When the Island was attacked, though he scarcely possessed any means of defence, either in troops, arms, or ammunition, and though he was thwarted even in the employment of them, such as they were, he conducted himself with that manly spirit and resolution, which procured him a capitulation equally favourable with those of Dominica and St Christopher's. He nevertheless lay under the imputation of neglect or ignorance of duty in the loss of his Island, till a Board of General Officers, obtained by his personal solicitation of the King to examine into the business, declared his conduct to have been that of a brave and faithful servant of his country.
On his return to England, he demanded justice of Administration, and justice was promised; but the delays of office intervened, new Administrations succeeded, and new delays were of course created; till discontented and rapacious creditors completed his misfortunes by consigning him to a prison.
The principal of these were, first, the holders of bills, drawn on Government for services performed in the West Indies, and which have since been allowed and paid. Secondly, the mortgagees of an estate in Antigua, who had been for some time in the possession and receipt of the estate itself, whose value was greatly superior to any demand they could make upon it.
Such disagreeable oppression kept Mr Morris in confinement during four years: and though, from the soothing kindness of affectionate family connections, he did not want such comforts as a prison could afford, how few, alas, were there of all the friends of his better days, who knocked at the prison door to know if he had any means left to sustain him. In the mean time, one of his estates in Antigua was sold for half its value; and Piercefield, which in the magnificence of Coup d'oeil, scarcely yields to Mount Edgcumbe, and in picturesque beauty is greatly superior, with an estate of near a thousand pounds a year, and a considerable quantity of timber, was forced to sale for 26,000l. a sum very short of that which had alone been expended in the improvement of it; another circumstance of mortification and distress which might have been prevented had Mr. Morris received only an inconsiderable part of what was due to him from the office of Government.
About 3 years ago, he obtained his liberty, and the present Minister was disposed to redeem the delay and injustice of former Administrations in his favour, but still the press of public business interfered, and fresh circumstances of delay interposed, till Mr. Morris resigned all his claims on this world to the power of the grave.
That he was a man of superior taste, and the most amiable manners, all who knew him know; and his natural capacity, if it was not in the first rank, was very far from being of an inferior class; but, among his misfortunes, for so it must be considered, at least, as relating to this world, he possessed that goodness of heart to the last, which led him to judge of mankind, not from what he had found them, but from what he felt in himself.
The leading feature of his character was a zeal which approached to Quixotism, whether it was employed in the service of his country, his friend, or the distressed. He has, indeed been represented as too much under the influence of a vain ostentation; and the generosity, the urbanity, and the charities of his life, have been imputed to that principle; but, by whom? by those who envied his prosperity; and fought to frame an excuse for their ingratitude in his adversity: what other vanity governed his character, than that which is the main spring of human excellence, we know not; but this we know and repeat, that he was a most faithful servant of his country, that he possessed an eminent capacity for friendship, that he never failed to assist distress when he could, and that he did assist it when he ought not. He shared his good things in the days of his fortune, with the friends of his prosperity, and he divided the pittance that remained in the hour of his distress with the companions of his adversity. He had his failings, which disasters might encrease, and the insolent rigour of affected virtue may condemn. That his passions might sometimes overcome his morality, and that the benevolence of his heart might too often extinguish his prudence, and circumstances which it is the duty of friendship to lament; but the best of us are the children of infirmity, and the virtues of Valentine Morris were sufficient, in the opinion of those who knew him best, to counterbalance all his errors. Such, however, as he was, he is gone to give an account to that Being, of whom, we believe, he has no reason to be afraid. From his life we at least may draw this salutary instruction, that there is no error more fatal to human happiness, than to be confident, that in the hour of misfortune, we shall receive protection from the justice, or relief from the gratitude of the world."