Page images
PDF
EPUB

prind is held in bondage. He dislikes an ut- | many with bread maat eyther of beanes, peaterly ununlightened age; he dislikes an inves- son, or otes, or of altogether, and some acornes tigating and reforming age. The first twenty among. I will not say that this extremity is years of the sixteenth century would have ex- oft so well to be seen in time of plentie as of actly suited him. They furnished just the dearth; but if I should I could easily bring quantity of intellectual excitement which he my trial; for albeit there be much more requires. The learned few read and wrote grounde eared nowe almost in everye place largely. A scholar was held in high estima- then hath beene of late yeares, yet such a tion; but the rabble did not presume to think; price of corne continueth in each town and and even the most inquiring and independent markete, without any just cause, that the artiof the educated classes paid more reverence to ficer and poore labouring man is not able to authority, and less to reason, than is usual in reach unto it, but is driven to content himself our time. This is a state of things in which with horse-corne; I mean beanes, peason, otes, Mr. Southey would have found himself quite tares, and lintelles." We should like to see comfortable; and, accordingly, he pronounces what the effect would be of putting any parish it the happiest state of things ever known in in England now on allowance of "horsethe world.

corne.” The helotiy of Mammon are not, in The savages were wretched, says Mr. Sou- our day, so easily enforced to content themthey; but the people in the time of Sir Thomas selves as the peasantry of that happy period, More were happier than either they or we. as Mr. Southey considers it, which elapsed Now, we think it quite certain, that we have between the fall of the feudal and the rise of the advantage over the contemporaries of Sir commercial tyranny. Thomas More, in every point in which they “The people,” says Mr. Southey,“ are worse had any advantage over savages.

fed than when they were fishers." And yet in Mr. Southey does not even pretend to main- another place he complains that they will not tain that the people in the sixteenth century eat fish. “ They have contracted,” says he, were better lodged or clothed than at present. “I know not how, some obstinate prejudice He seems to admit that in these respects there against a kind of food at once wholesome and has been some little improvement. It is indeed delicate, and everywhere to be obtained a matter about which scarcely any doubt can cheaply and in abundance, were the demand exist in the most perverse mind, that the im- for it as general as it ought to be.” It is provements of machinery have lowered the true that the lower orders have an obstinate price of manufactured articles, and have brought prejudice against fish. But hunger has no within the reach of the poorest some conve- such obstinate prejudices. If what was forniences which Sir Thomas More or his master merly a common diet is now eaten only in times could not have obtained at any price.

of severe pressure, the inference is plain. The labouring classes, however, were, ac- The people must be fed with what they at cording to Mr. Southey, better fed three hun- least think better food than that of their andred years ago than at present. We believe cestors. that he is completely in error on this point. The advice and medicine which the poorest The condition of servants in noble and weal- labourer can now obtain, in disease or after thy families, and of scholars at the Universi- an accident, is far superior to what Henry the ties, must surely have been better in those Eighth could have commanded. Scarcely any times than that of common day-labourers; and part of the country is out of the reach of pracwe are sure that it was not tetter than that of titioners, who are probably not so far inferior our workhouse paupers. From the house to Sir Henry Halford as they are superior to hold book of the Northumberland family, we Sir Anthony Denny. That there has been a find that in one of the greatest establishments great improvement in this respect Mr. Southey of the kingdom, the servants lived almost en- allows. Indeed, he could not well have denied tirely on salt meat, without any bread at all. Ait. “But,” says he, “the evils for which the more unwholesome diet can scarcely be con- sciences are the palliative, have increased ceived. In the reign of Edward the Sixth, the since the time of the Druids in a proportion state of the students at Cambridge is described that heavily outweighs the benefit of improved to us, on the very best authority, as most therapeutics." We know nothing either of the wretched. Many of them dined on pottage diseases or the remedies of the Druids. But made of a farthing's worth of beef with a little we are quite sure that the improvement of salt and oatmeal, and literally nothing else. medicine has far more than kept pace with the This account we have from a contemporary increase of disease, during the last three cenmaster of St. John's. Our parish poor now turies. This is proved by the best possible eat wheaten bread. In the sixteenth century evidence. The term of human life is decidedthe labourer was glad to get barley, and was ly longer in England than in any former age, often forced to content himself with poorer respecting which we possess any information fare. In Harrison's introduction to Holinshed on which we can rely. All the rants in the we have an account of the state of our working world about picturesque cottages and temples population in the “golden days," as Mr. Southey of Mammon will not shake this argument. No calls them, of good Queen Bess. “The genti- test of the state of society can be named so litie,” says he, “commonly provide themselves decisive as that which is furnished by bills of sufficiently of wheat for their own tables, mortality. That the lives of the people of this whylest their household and poore neighbours country have been gradually lengthening durir: some shires are inforced to content themselves ing the course of several generations, is as with rice or barley; yea, and in time of dearth, certain as any fact in statistics, and that the

lives of men should become longer and longer, | gence in what they thought an exquisito repast; while the physical condition, during life, is be- and that a dropsy of a peculiar description coming worse and worse, is utterly incredible. was produced by the hard fare of the year.

Let our readers think over these circum- Dead bodies were found on the roads and in stances. Let them take into the account the the fields. A single surgeon dissected six of sweating sickness and the plague. Let them these, and found the stomachs shrunk, and take into the account that fearful disease which filled with the unwholesome aliments which first made its appearance in the generation to hunger had driven men to share with beasts. which Mr. Southey assigns the palm of feli- Such extremity of distress as this is never city, and raged through Europe with a fury at heard of in England, or even in Ireland. which the physician stood aghast, and before We are, on the whole, inclined to think, though which the people were swept away by thou- we would speak with diffidence on a point on sands. Let them consider the state of the which it would be rash to pronounce a posinorthern counties, constantly the scene of rob- live judgment, without a much longer and beries, rapes, massacres, and conflagrations. closer investigation than we have bestowed Let them add to all this the fact that seventy- upon it, that the labouring classes of this two thousand persons suffered death by the island, though they have their grievances and hands of the executioner during the reign of distresses, some produced by their own improHenry the Eighth, and judge between the nine-vidence, some by the errors of their rulers, are teenth and the sixteenth century.

on the whole better off, as to physical comforts, We do not say that the lower orders in Eng- than the inhabitants of any equally extensive land do not suffer severe hardships. But, in district of the old world. On this very account, spite of Mr. Southey's assertions, and in spite suffering is more acutely felt and more loudly of the assertions of a class of politicians, who, bewailed here than elsewhere. We must take differing from Mr. Southey in every other into the account the liberty of discussion, and point, agree with him in this, we are inclined the strong interest which the opponents of a to doubt whether they really suffer greater ministry always have to exaggerate the extent physical distress than the labouring classes of of the public disasters. There are many parts the most flourishing countries of the Conti- of Europe in which the people quietly endure nent.

distress that here would shake the foundations It will scarcely be maintained that the lazza- of the state ; in which the inhabitants of a roni who sleep under the porticos of Naples, whole province turn out to eat grass, with less or the beggars who besiege the convents of clamour than one Spitalfields weaver would Spain, are in a happier situation than the Eng- make here, if the overseers were to put him lish commonalty. The distress which has on barley-bread. In those new countries in lately been experienced in the northern part of which a civilized population had at its comGermany, one of the best governed and most mand a boundless extent of the richest soil, prosperous districts of Europe, surpasses, if the condition of the labourer is probably hapwe have been correctly informed, any thing pier than in any society which has lasted for which has of late years been known among many centuries. But in the old world we must us. In Norway and Sweden the peasantry are confess ourselves unable to find any satisfacconstantly compelled to mix bark with their tory record of any great nation, past or prebread, and even this expedient has not always sent, in which the working classes have been preserved whole families and neighbourhoods in a more comfortable situation than in Engfrom perishing together of famine. An expe- land during the last thirty years. When this riment has lately been tried in the kingdom of island was thinly peopled, it was barbarous. the Netherlands, which has been cited to prove There was little capital; and that little was inthe possibility of establishing agricultural colo- secure. It is now the richest and the most nies on the waste-lands of England; but which highly civilized spot in the world; but the proves to our minds nothing so clearly as this, population is dense. Thus we have never that the rate of subsistence to which the labour- known that golden age which the lower orders ing classes are reduced in the Netherlands is in the United States are now enjoying. We have miserably low, and very far inferior to that of never known an age of liberty, of order, and of the English paupers. No distress which the education, an age in which the mechanical scipeople here have endured for centuries, ap- ences were carried to a great height, yet in proaches to that which has been felt by the which the people were nct sufficiently numeFrench in our own time. The beginning of rous to cultivate even the most fertile valleys. the year 1817 was a time of great distress in But when we compare our own condition with this island. But the state of the lowest classes that of our ancestors, we think it clear that the here was luxury compared with that of the advantages arising from the progress of civilipeople of France. We find in Magendie's zation have far more than counterbalanced the Journal de Physiologie Expérimentale, a paper on disadvantages arising from the progress of a point of physiology connected with the dis- population. While our numbers have in. tress of that season. It appears that the inha- creased tenfold, our wealth has increased a bitants of six departments, Aix, Jura, Doubs, hundredfold. Though there are so many more Haute Saone, Vosges, and Saone et Loire, people to share the wealth now existing in the were reduced first to oatmeal and potatoes, and country than there were in the sixteenth centuat last to nettles, bean-stalks, and other kind ry, it seems certain that a greater share falls to of herbage fit only for cattle; that when the almost every individual than fell to the share uext harvest enabled them to eat barley-bread, of any of the corresponding class in the sis. many of them died from intemperate indul- 1 teenth century. The king keeps a more spleu. VOL. I.--!5

K 2

did court. The establishments of the nobles this is the state of society in which the great are more magnificent. The esquires are proprietors have devoured the smaller! richer, the merchants are richer, the shopkeep The cure which Mr. Southey thinks that he ers are richer. The serving-man, the artisan, has discovered is worthy of the sagacity which and the husbandman have a more copious and he has shown in detecting the evil. The capalatable supply of food, better clothing, and lamities arising from the collection of wealth better furniture. This is no reason for tole- in the hands of a few capitalists are to be rerating abuses, or for neglecting any means of medied by collecting it in the hands of one ameliorating the condition of our poorer coun- great capitalist, who has no conceivable motrymen. But it is a reason against telling tive to use it better than other capitalists,-the them, as some of our philosophers are con- all-devouring state. stantly telling them, that they are the most It is not strange that, differing so widely wretched people who ever existed on the face from Mr. Southey as to the past progress of of the earth.

society, we should differ from him also as to We have already adverted to Mr. Southey's its probable destiny. He thinks, that to all amusing doctrine about national wealth. A outward appearance, the country is hastening state, says he, cannot be too rich; but a peo- to destruction ; but he relies firmly on the ple may be too rich. His reason for thinking goodness of God. We do not see either the this, is extremely curious.

piety or the rationality of thus confidently exA people may be too rich, because it is the pecting that the Supreme Being will interfere tendency of the commercial, and more espe- to disturb the common succession of causes cially, of the manufactu system, to collect and effects. We, too, rely on his goodnesswealth rather than to diffuse it. Where wealth on his goodness as manifested, not in extrais necessarily employed in any of the specula- ordinary interpositions, but in those general tions of trade, its increase is in proportion to laws which it has pleased him to establish in its amount. Great capitalists become like the physical and in the moral world. We rely pikes in a fish-pond, who devour the weaker on ihe natural tendency of the human intelfish; and it is but too certain, that the poverty lect to truth, and on the natural tendency of of one part of the people seems to increase in society to improvement. We know no well the same ratio as the riches of another. There authenticated instance of a people which has are examples of this in history. In Portugal, decidedly retrograded in civilization and proswhen the high tide of wealth flowed in from perity, except from the influence of violent and the conquests in Africa and the East, the effect terrible calamities such as those which laid of that great influx was not more visible in the the Roman empire in ruins, or those which, augmented splendour of the court, and the about the beginning of the sixteenth century, luxury of the higher ranks, than in the distress desolated Italy. We know of no country of the people."

which, at the end of fifty years of peace and Mr. Southey's instance is not a very fortu- tolerably good government, has been less prosnate one. The wealth which did so little for perous than at the beginning of that period. the Portuguese was not the fruit either of The political importance of a state may demanufactures or of commerce carried on by cline, as the balance of power is disturbed by private individuals. It was the wealth, not of the introduction of new forces. Thus the the people, but of the government and its crea- influence of Holland and of Spain is much tures, of those who, as Mr. Southey thinks, diminished. But are Holland and Spain poornever can be too rich. The fact is, that Mr. er than formerly? We doubt it. Other counSouthey's proposition is opposed to all history, tries have outrun them. But we suspect that and to the phenomena which surround us on they had been positively, though not relatively, every side. ` England is the richest country in advancing. We suspect that Holland is richer Europe, the most commercial, and the most than when she sent her navies up the Thames; manufacturing. Russia and Poland are the that Spain is richer than when a French king poorest countries in Europe. They have was brought captive to the footstool of Charles scarcely any trade, and none but the rudest the Fifth. manufactures. Is wealth more diffused in History is full of the signs of this natural Russia and Poland than in England ? There progress of society. We see in almost every are individuals in Russia and Poland whose part of the annals of mankind how the indusincomes are probably equal to those of our try of individuals, struggling up against wars, vichest countrymen. "It may be doubted, whe- taxes, famines, conflagrations, mischievous ther there are not, in those countries, as many prohibitions, and more mischievous protecfortunes of eighty thousand a year as here. tions, creates faster tha governments can But are there as many fortunes of five thou- squander, and repairs whatever invaders can sand a year, or of one thousand a year? There destroy: We see the capital of nations increasare parishes in England which contain more ing, and all the arts of life approaching nearer people of between five hundred and three and nearer to perfection, in spite of the grossest Thousand pounds a year than could be found corruption and the wildest profusion on the in all the dominions of the Emperor Nicholas. part of rulers. The neat and commodious houses which have The present moment is one of great distress. been buiit in Lonrlon and its vicinity, for peo- But how small will that distress appear when ple of this class, within the last thirty years, we think over the history of the last forty would of themselves form a city larger than years;-a war, compared with which all other le capitals of some European kingdoms. And I wars sink into insignificance; taxation, such

as the most heavily taxed people of former times what, in the time of Oliver Cromwell, times could not have conceived; a debt larger had been thought intolerably oppressive. To than all the public debts that ever existed in almost all men the state of things under which the world added together; the food of the peo- they have been used to live seems to be the ple studiously rendered dear; the currency necessary state of things. We have heard it imprudently debased, and imprudently restored. said that five per cent. is the natural interest Yet is the country poorer than in 1790? We of money, thai twelve is the natural number fully believe that, in spite of all the misgo- of a jury, that forty shillings is the natural vernment of her rulers, she has been almost qualification of a county voter. Hence it is constantly becoming richer and richer. Now that, though in every age everybody knows and then there has been a stoppage, now and that up to his own time progressive improvethen a short retrogression ; but as to the ge- ment has been taking place, nobody seems to neral tendency there can be no doubt. A sin- reckon on any improvement during the next gle breaker may recede, but the tide is evi- generation. We cannot absolutely prove that dently coming in.

those are in error, who tell us that society has If we were to prophesy that in the year 1930, reached a turning point,—that we have seen a population of fifty millions, better fed, clad, our best days. But so said all who came be. and lodged than the English of our time, will fore us, and with just as much apparent reacover these islands; that Sussex and Hunting- son. “ A million a year will beggar us,” said donshire will be wealthier than the wealthiest the patriots of 1640. "Two millions a year parts of the West-Riding of Yorkshire now will grind the country to powder," was the cry are; that cultivation, rich as that of a flower- in 1660. “Six millions a year, and a debt of garden, will be carried up to the very tops of fifty millions !” exclaimed Swift; “ the high Ben Nevis and Helvellyn; that machines, con- allies have been the ruin of us.” " A hundred structed on principles yet undiscovered, will and forty millions of debt!” said Junius; be in every house ; that there will be no high-“well may we say that we owe Lord Chatham ways but railroads, no travelling but by steam; more than we shall ever pay, if we owe him and our debt, vast as it seems to us, will ap- such a load as this.” «Two hundred and pear to our great-grandchildren a trilling forty millions of debt !” cried all the statesencumbrance, which might easily be paid off men of 1783 in chorus; “what abilities, or in a year or two, many people would think us what economy on the part of a minister, can insane. We prophesy nothing; but this we save a country so burdened ?" We know that say—If any person had told the Parliament if, since 1783, no fresh debt had been incurred, which met in perplexity and terror after the the increased resources of the country would crash in 1720, that in 1830 the wealth of Eng- have enabled us to defray that burden at which land would surpass all their wildest dreams; Pitt, Fox, and Burke stood aghast--to defray it that the annual revenue would equal the prin- over and over again, and that with much lighter cipal of that debt which they considered as taxation than what we have actually borne. an intolerable burden ; that for one man of On what principle is it, that when we see no10,0001. then living, there would be five men thing but improvement behind us, we are tm' of 50,000l. ; that London would be twice as large expect nothing but deterioration before us? and twice as populous, and that nevertheless the It is not by the intermeddling of Mr. Soumortality would have diminished to one-half they's idol, the omniscient and omnipotent what it then was; that the postoffice would bring State, but by the prudence and energy of the more into the exchequer than the excise and cus- people, that England has hitherto been carried tems had brought in together under Charles II. ; forward in civilization; and it is to the same that stage-coaches would run from London to prudence and the same energy that we now York in twenty-four hours; that men would look with comfort and good hope. Our rulers sail without wind, and would be beginning to will best promote the improvement of the ride without horses, our ancestors would have people by strictly confining themselves to their given as much credit to the prediction as they own legitimate duties ; by leaving capital to gave to Gulliver's Travels. Yet the predic- find its most lucrative course, commodities tion would have been true; and they would their fair price, industry and intelligence their have perceived that it was not altogether ab- natural reward, idleness and folly their natural surd if they had considered that the country punishment; by maintaining peace, by defendwas then raising every year a sum which ing property, by diminishing the price of law, would have purchased the fee-simple of the and by observing strict economy in every derevenue of the Plantagenets, ten times what partment of the state. Let the government do supported the government of Elizabeth, three this-the people will assuredly lo the rest

MOORE'S LIFE OF LORD BYRON.*

[EDINBURGH Review, 1831.)

We have read this book with the greatest general epistles, meant to be read by a large pleasure. Considered merely as a composition, circle, we expected to find them clever and it deserves to be classed among the best spe- spirited, but deficient in ease. We looked cimens of English prose which our age has with vigilance for instances of stiffness in the produced. It contains, indeed, no single pas- language, and awkwardness in the transitions. sage equal to two or three which we could se- We have been agreeably disappointed ; and lect from the Life of Sheridan. But, as a we must confess, that if the epistolary style of whole, it is immeasurably superior to that Lord Byron was artificial, it was a rare and work. The style is agreeable, clear, and manly; admirable instance of that highest art, which and when it rises into eloquence, rises without cannot be distinguished from nature. effort or ostentation. Nor is the matter inferior of the deep and painful interest which this to the manner.

book excites, no abstract can give a just no It would be difficult to name a book which tion. So sad and dark a story is scarcely to be exhibits more kindness, fairness, and modesty. found in any work of fiction; and we are littl It has evidently been written, not for the pur- disposed to envy the moralist who can read i pose of showing, what, however, it often shows, without being softened. how well its author can write ; but for the pur The pretty fable by which the Duchess of pose of vindicating, as far as truth will per- Orleans illustrates the character of her son the mit, the memory of a celebrated man who can regent, might, with little change, be applied to no longer vindicate himself. Mr. Moore never Byron. All the fairies, save one, had been bidthrusts himself between Lord Byron and the den to his cradle. All the gossips had been public. With the strongest temptations to profuse of their gifts. One had bestowed noegotism, he has said no more about himself bility, another genius, a third beauty. The than the subject absolutely required. A great malignant elf who had been uninvited came part, indeed the greater part of these volumes, last, and, unable to reverse what her sisters had consists of extracts from the Letters and Jour-done for their favourite, had mixed up a curse nals of Lord Byron; and it is difficult to speak with every blessing. In the rank of Lord too highly of the skill which has been shown Byron, in his understanding, in his character, in the selection and arrangement. We will in his very person, there was a strange union not say that we have not occasionally remark- of opposite extremes. He was born to all that ed in these two large quartos an anecdote men covet and admire. But in every one of which should have been omitted, a letter those eminent advantages which he possessed which should have been suppressed, a name over others, there was mingled someihing of which should have been concealed by aste- misery and debasement. He was sprung from risks; or asterisks which do not answer the a house, ancient indeed and noble, but de. purpose of concealing the name. But it is graded and impoverished by a series of crimes impossible, on a general survey, to deny that and follies, which had attained a scandalous the task has been executed with great judg- publicity. The kinsman whom he succeeded ment and great humanity. When we consider had died poor, and, but for merciful judges, the life which Lord Byron had led, his petu- would have died upon the gallows. The young lance, his irritability, and his communicative. peer had great intellectual powers; yet there ness, we cannot but admire the dexterity with was an unsound part in his mind. He had nawhich Mr. Moore has contrived to exhibit so turally a generous and tender heart; but his much of the character and opinions of his temper was wayward and irritable. He had friend, with so little pain to the feelings of the a head which statuaries loved to copy, and a living.

foot the deformity of which the beggars in the The extracts from the journals and corres- streets mimicked. Distinguished at once by the pondence of Lord Byron are in the highest de- strength and by the weakness of his intellech, gree valuable--not merely on account of the affectionate yet perverse, a poor lord, and a information which they contain respecting the handsome cripple, he required, if ever man re. distinguished man by whom they were written, quired, the firmest and the most judicious trainbut on account, also, of their rare merit as com- ing. But, capriciously as nature had dealt positions. The Letters, at least those which with him, the relative to whom the office of were sent from Italy, are among the best in our forming his character was intrusted was more Janguage. They are less affected than those capricious still. She passed from paroxysms of Pope and Walpole; they have more matter of rage to paroxysms of fondness. At one time in them than those of Cowper. Knowing that she stifled him with her caresses, at another many of them were not written merely for the time she insulted his deformity. He came into person to whom they were directed, but were the world, and the world treated him as his

mother treated him - sometimes with kind. * Letters and Journals of Lord Byron; with Notices of Lis Life By Tuomas MOORE, Esq. 2 vols. 410. Lonness, sometimes with severity, never with

justice. It indulged him without discrimina

ton: 1830.

« PreviousContinue »