The Opposition still nourishes the hope of seeing its champion, the Prince of Wales, receive full powers. It is comforted in this opinion by the fact that the apparent improvement in the King’s health has only made worse the doctors’ quarrels. Although Prime Minister William Pitt opposes it, the House of Commons decides, on 6 January 1789, to consult them again before pronouncing on the Regency problem. Sir Lucas Peppys is the first to be questioned. His hopes of seeing his patient cured one day have not disappeared in the least. On 27 December, he had observed that George III was acting like a perfectly calm and reasonable person. Despite an undeniable improvement, both his physical and mental states still remain very unstable, but he is convinced that he will one day become again totally and definitively master of himself.
Willis emits no doubt either about the possibility of curing George III. His argument for this is a recent event which he is careful to make symbolic. He indicates that George III’s visual faculties and his capacity for concentration have considerably improved in a very short lapse of time. The King can now read several pages in one go, whereas, two weeks earlier, he couldn’t even read one line. Richard Warren and Sir George Baker refuse to take these signs of remission into consideration. They apply themselves to fustigating Willis and his methods.
In fact, each of the doctors remains faithful to his original convictions, and the Parliamentarians do not know much more about it than they did the previous month. However, the doctors’ reports create a sensation because they have more than ever the value of a political stake. They are not only published in the different Journals edited by the House of Commons, but also in the daily Press. The public grabs them as if they were hot cakes. To satisfy the demand, some publishing houses, who had not forseen such a success, are obliged to re-edit three times in a row. Everyone interprets them in his own way, according to his political preferences, and they are used either to defend Willis’ methods, or to denounce his incompetence.
Soon, throughout the whole of England, these doctors are the only topic of conversation. The fate of the entire nation seems to depend on them. But, separated into rival factions, they are more than ever decided to disagree. On the morning of 13 January, the King wakes after having slept for six hours non-stop. To mention this progress in the official health bulletin, Willis proposes a firm but evocative formula: “peaceful and uninterrupted sleep”. Baker opposes this on the pretext that a page has informed him that he had seen the King turn over twice in his bed while he was sleeping.
While the doctors, and consequently the Parliamentarians, continue their quarrels, George III remains very unstable nervously. The periods of calm are usually of very short duration and seem necessarily to engender even more violent temper tantrums. There he is, calm, peaceful and sensible, and suddenly, he becomes wild and irascible. When he is agitated like this, he again evokes Lady Pembroke’s charms, in the most trivial fashion. He also talks a lot about Queen Charlotte, either with tenderness, or to heap blame on her for all his woes. Then he passes from one subject to another without any coherence. To quash his agitation, the Willises always use the straightjacket, usually successfully… But constrained to calm, the King becomes conscious of his pitiful situation, and then begins pathetic lamentations.
On 16 January, with the aim of appeasing the humour which is upsetting his digestive system, he is made to swallow an acid preparation to make him vomit. He becomes very sick, and this suffering, added to all the others, plunges him into deep despair. He kneels against a chair and prays God to heal him immediately or take his life from him straight away. The following day, he is again better. His heartbeats are very regular and, for the first time in weeks, he has no abdominal pain. So, he is exceptionally allowed to eat meat. Since the beginning of the malady, originally interpreted as an attack of gout, he has been held to a particular, meatless diet. In the evening, the Queen visits him, without him displaying any signs of agitation. Shortly after her departure, he starts a game of cards with Sir Lucas Peppys and does nothing which does not seem perfectly rational. Finally, he spends a peaceful night and plunges into sleep for seven hours.
But he is hardly awake than he displays terrible agitation. Willis, himself, recognizes that he has never seen his patient in such a state. Animated by uncontrollable fury, he brutally hits one of his assistants, before throwing a chair at a servant’s head, and soon attacks all those who attempt to control his anger. The official health bulletin, read that same day before the House of Commons, will pudically announce:
“His Majesty was calm and serene all through yesterday. He slept seven hours, but this morning, things took their usual course.”
On 19 January 1789, the royal patient’s nerves are not really calm. However, Willis allows him to walk in the gardens of Kew. Followed by a little troup of doctors, assistants and equerries. George III goes to the great Chinese Pagoda. This strange, colossal edifice, almost fifty metres high, had been erected in 1761 by the Scot, William Chambers. Chambers had lived in the Orient for nine years and had contributed to spreading the fashion of “chinoiseries” throughout Europe. The pagoda that he had imagined for the royal gardens has the shape of a tower, and no fewer than ten floors. At the epoch, it is still possible to distinguish at each floor, the dragons holding the little bells that tinkle in the wind.
On this Winter day, in an English countryside, it is singularly unsettling to see this demented King, surging from the mist, followed by his own servants, attempting to penetrate this tower, so unusual by its style as well as its dimensions. As he is stopped from entering it, he lies down on the grass and obstinately refuses to get up again. The seven people who have accompanied him here are obliged to take turns carrying him back indoors. Although his conduct is attributed to the fatigue caused by this walk in the cold, he is submitted to severe coercion until evening.
To be continued.