Page images

leigh. But in the times on which he was cast, his errors and his virtues were alike out of place. He imprisoned men without trial. He was accused of raising unlawful contributions on the people for the support of the army. The abolition of the Triennial Act was one of his favourite objects. He seems to have meditated the revival of the Star-Chamber and the High Commission Court. His zeal for the prerogative made him unpopular; but it could not secure to him the favour of a master far more desirous of ease and pleasure than of power. Charles would rather have lived in exile and privacy, with abundance of money, a crowd of mimics to amuse him, and a score of mistresses, than have purchased the absolute dominion of the world by the privations and exertions to which Clarendon was constantly urging him. A councillor who was always bringing him papers and giving him advice, and who stoutly refused to compliment Lady Castlemaine and to carry messages to Miss Stewart, soon became more hateful to him than ever Cromwell had been. Thus considered by the people as an oppressor, by the court as a censor, the minister fell from his high office, with a ruin more violent and destructive than could ever have been his fate, if he had either respected the principles of the constitution, or flattered the vices of the king. Mr. Hallam has formed, we think, a most correct estimate of the character and administration of Clarendon. But he scarcely makes sufficient allowance for the wear and tear which honesty almost necessarily sustains in the friction of political life, and which, in times so rough as those through which Clarendon passed, must be very considerable. When these are fairly estimated, we think that his integrity may be allowed to pass muster. A highminded man he certainly was not, either in public or in private affairs. His own account of his conduct in the affair of his daughter is the most extraordinary passage in autobiography. We except nothing even in the Confessions of Rousseau. Several writers have taken a perverted and absurd pride in representing themselves as detestable; but no other ever laboured hard to make himself despicable and ridiculous. In one important particular, Clarendon showed as little regard to the honour of his country as he had shown to that of his family. He accepted a subsidy from France for the relief of Portugal. But this method of obtaining money was afterwards practised to a much greater extent, and for objects much less respectable, both by the Court and by the Opposition. These pecuniary transactions are commonly considered as the most disgraceful part of the history of those times; and they were no doubt highly reprehensible. Yet, in justice to the Whigs. and to Charles himself, we must admit that they were not so shameful or atrocious as at the present day they appear. The effect of violent animosities between parties has always been an indifference to the general welfare and honour of the state. A politician,

[blocks in formation]

or rather pirates. The strongest aversion which he can feel to any foreign power is the ardour of friendship, compared with the loathing which he entertains towards those domestic foes with whom he is cooped up in a narrow space, with whom he lives in a constant interchange of petty injuries and insults, and from whom, in the day of their success, he has to expect severities far beyond any that a conqueror from a distant country would inflict. Thus, in Greece, it was a point of honour for a man to leave his country and cleave to his party. No aristocratical citizen of Samos or Corcyra would have hesitated to call in the aid of Lacedæmon. The multitude, on the contrary, looked to Athens. In the Italian states of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, from the same cause, no man was so much a Florentine or a Pisan, as a Ghibeline or a Guelf. It may be doubted whether there was a single individual who would have scrupled to raise his party from a state of depression, by opening the gates of his native city to a French or an Arragonese force. The Reformation, dividing almost every European country into two parts, produced similar effects. The Catholic was too strong for the Englishman: the Huguenot for the Frenchman. The Protestant statesmen of Scotland and France accordingly called in the aid of Elizabeth; and the Papists of the League brought a Spanish army into the very heart of France. The commotions to

[ocr errors]

which the French Revolution gave rise have

been followed by the same consequences. The republicans in every part of Europe were eager to see the armies of the National Convention and the Directory appear among them; and exulted in defeats which distressed and humbled those whom they considered as their worst enemies, their own rulers. The princes and nobles of France, c n the other hand, did their utmost to bring foreign invaders to Paris, A very short time has elapsed since the Apos. tolical party in Spain invoked, too success. fully, the support of strangers. The great contest, which raged in England during the seventeenth century and the earlier part of the eighteenth, extinguisned, not invect, in the body of the people, but in those classes which were most actively engaged in politics, almost all national feelings. Charles the Se. cond and many of his courtiers had passed a large part of their lives in banishment, serv. ing in foreign armies, living on the bounty of foreign treasuries, soliciting foreign aid to re-establish monarchy in their native country. The oppressed Cavaliers in England constantly looked to France and Spain for deliverance and revenge. Clarendon censures the Continental governments with great bitterness for not interfering in our internal dissensions. During the protectorate, not only the royalists, but the disaffected of all parties, appear to have been desirous of assistance from abroad. It is not strange, therefore, that amidst the su. rious contests which followed the Restoration, the violence of party feeling should produce effects, which would probably have attended it even in an age less distinguished by o of principle and indelicacy of sentiment. It was not till a natural death had terminated the

paralytic old age of the Jacobite party, that the tal laws of the country, who had attacked the evil was completely at an end. The Unigs rights of its greatest corporations, who had looked to Holland; the High Tories to France. begun to persecuțe the established religion of The former concluded the Barrier Treaty; the state, who had never respected the law some of the latter entreated the court of Ver- either in his superstition or in his revenge, sailles to serd an expedition to England. could not be pulled down without the aid of a Many men who, however erroneous their poli. foreign army, is a circumstance not very tical notions might be, were unquestionably grateful to our national pride. Yet this is the honourable in private life, accepted money least degrading part of the story. The shame. without scruple from the foreign powers fa- less insincerity, the warm assurances of genevourable to the Pretender is

ral support which James received down lo Never was there less of national feeling the moment of general desertion, indicate a among the higher orders, than during the reign meanness of spirit and a looseness of morali. of Charles the Second. That prince, on the ty most disgraceful to the age. That the en. one side, thought it better to be the deputy of lerprise succeeded, at least that it succeeded an absolute king, than the king of a free peo- without bloodshed or commotion, was princi. ple. Algernon Sydney, on the other hand, pally owing to an act of ungrateful perfidy, would gladly have aided France in all her such as no soldier had ever before committed, ambitious schemes, and have seen England and to those monstrous fictions respecting the reduced to the condition of a province, in the birth of the Prince of Wales, which persons of wild hope that a foreign despot would assist the highest rank were not ashamed to circu. him to establish his darling republic. The late. In all the proceedings of the Conven, king took the money of France to assist him tion, in the conference particularly, we see in the enterprise which he meditated against that littleness of mind which is the chief chathe liberty of his subjects, with as little scru-racteristic of the times. The resolutions on ple as Frederic of Prussia or Alexander of which the two Houses at last agreed were as Russia accepted our subsidies in time of war. bad as any resolutions for so excellent a purThe leaders of the Opposition no more thought pose could be. Their feeble and contradictory themselves disgraced by the presents of Louis, language was evidently intended to save the than a gentleman of our own time thinks him credit of the Tories, who were ashamed 10 self disgraced by the liberality of a powerful name what they were not ashamed to do. and wealthy member of his party who pays Through the whole transaction, no command· his election bill. The money which the kinging talents were displayed by any Englishman;

received from France had been largely em- | no extraordinary risks were run; no sacrifices ployed to corrupt members of Parliament. The were made, except the sacrifice which Churchenemies of the court might think it fair, or ill made of honour, and Anne of natural afleceven absolutely necessary, to encounter bribe- tion. ry with bribery. Thus they took the French It was in some sense fortunate, as we have gratuities, the needy among them for their already said, for the Church of England, that own use, the rich probably for the general the Reformation in this country was effected purposes of the party, without any scruple. If by men who cared little about religion. And, we compare their conduct, not with that of in the same manner, it was fortunate for our English statesmen in our own time, but with civil government that the Revolution was in a that of persons in those foreign countries great measure effected by men who cared liule which are now situated as England then was, about their political principles. At such a we shall probably see reason to abate some-crisis, splendid talents and strong passions thing of the severity of censure with which it might have done more harm than good. There has been the fashion to visit those proceed was Tar greater reason to fear that too much ings. Yet, when every allowance is made, would be attempted, and that violent move the transaction is sufficiently offensive. It is ments would produce an equally violent reacsatisfactory to find that Lord Russel stands free tion, than that too little would be done in the from any imputation of personal participation in way of change. But narrowness of interlect the spoil. An age, so miserably poor in all the and flexibility of principles, though they may inoral qualities which render public characters be serviceable, can never be respectable. respectable, can ill spare the credit which it If in the Revolution itself there was little that derives from a man, not indeed conspicuous can properly be called glorious, there was suill for talents or knowledge, but honest even in less in the events which followed. In a church his errors, respectable in every relation of life, which had as one man declared the doctrine rationally pious, steadily and placidly brave. of resistance unchristian, only four hundred on hi The great improvement which took place in persons refused to take the oath of allegiance our breed of public men is principally to be to a government founded on resistance! In ascrived to the Revolution. Yet that memo- the preceding generation, both the Episcopal rable event, in a great measure, took its cha- and the Presbyterian clergy, rather than conracter from the very vices which it was the cede points of conscience not more important means of reforming. It was, assuredly, a hap- had resigned their livings by thousands. ry revolution, and a useful revolution; but it! The churchmen, at the time of the Revoluwas not, what it has often been called, a glo- tion, justified their conduct by all those profli. rious revolution. William, and William alone, gate sophisms which are called jesuitical, and derived glory from it. The transaction was, which are commonly reckoned among the pein almost every part, discreditable to England. culiar sins of Popery; but which in fact are That a tyrant, who had violated the fundamen- everywhere the anodyles employed by minds

rather subtle than strong, to quiet those inter- | Anne, treated some of those who had directed Dal twinges which they cannot but feel, and public affairs during the war of the Grand Al which they will not obey. As their oath was liance, and the retaliatory measures of the in the teeth of their principles, so was their Whigs after the accession of the house of Hla. conduct in the teeth of their oath. Their con- nover, cannot be justified; but they were by stant machinations against the government to no means in the style of the infuriated parties which they had sworn fidelity, brought a re- whose alternate murders had disgraced our proach on their order, ard on Christianity history towards the close of the reign of Charles itself. A distinguished churchman has not the Second. At the fall of Walpole far greater scrupled to say, that the rapid increase of infi- moderation was displayed. And from that time delity at that time was principally produced by it has been the practice-a practice not strictthe disgust, which the faithless conduct of his ly according to the theory of our constitution, brethren excited, in men not sufficiently can- but still most salutary-to consider the loss of did or judicious, lo discern the beauties of the office and the public disapprobation as punishsystem amidst the vices of its ministers. 'ments sufficient for errors in the administration

But the reproach was not confined to the not imputable to personal corruption. Nothing, church. In every political party, in the cabi. we believe, has contributed more than this lenet itself, duplicity and perfidy abounded. The nity to raise the character of public men. Amvery men whom William loaded with benefits, bition is of itself a game sufficiently hazardous and in whom he reposed most confidence, with and sufficiently deep to inflame the passions, his seals of office in their hands, kept up a without adding property, life, and liberty to the correspondence with the exiled family. Ox. stake. Where the play runs so desperately ford, Carmarthen, and Shrewsbury were guilty high as in the seventeenth century, honour is of this odious treachery. Even Devonshire is at an end. Statesmen, instead of being as they not altogether free from suspicion. It may should be, at once mild and steady, are at once well be conceived that at such a time such a ferocious and inconsistent. The axe is forever Dature as that of Marlborough would riot in before their eyes. A popular outcry some. the very luxury of baseness. His former trea-times unnerves them, and sometimes makes Son, thoroughly furnished with all that makes them desperate; it drives them to unworthy infadiy exquisite, placed him indeed under the compliances, or to measures of vengeance as disadvantage which attends every artist from cruel as those which they have reason to expect. the time that he produces a masterpiece. Yet A minister in our times need not (ear either to his second great stroke may excite wonder, be firm or to be merciful. Our old policy in even in those who appreciate all the merit of this respect was as absurd as that of tbe king the first. Lest his admirers should be able to in the Eastern Tales, who proclaimed that any say that at the time of the Revolution he had physician who pleased might come to court betrayed his king from any other than selfish and prescribe for his disease, but that if the motives, he proceeded to betray his country. remedies failed the adventurer should lose his

le sent intelligence to the French court of a head. It is easy to conceive how many able secret expedition intended to attack Brest. The men would refuse to undertake the core on consequence was that the expedition failed, and such conditions ; how much the sense of exthat eight hundred British soldiers lost their treme danger would confuse the perceptions lives from the abandoned villany of a British and cloud the intellect of the practitioner at general. Yet this man has been canonized by the very crisis which most called for self-posso many eminent writers, that to speak of him session, and how strong his temptation would as he deserves may seem scarcely decent. To be, if he found that he had committed a blun. us he seems to be the very San Ciappelletto der, to escape the consequences of it by poi. of the political calendar.

soning his patient. The reign of William the Third, as Mr. Hal- But in fact it would have been impossible, lam happily says, was the nadir of the nation since the Revolution, to punish any minister al prosperity. It was also the nadir of the for the general course of his policy with the national character. During that period was slightest semblance of justice; for since that gathered in the rank harvest of vices sown time no minister has been able to pursue any during thirty years of licentiousness and con- general course of policy without the approba. fusion; but it was also the seed-time of great tion of the Parliament. The most important efvirtues.

|fects of that great change were, as Mr. Hallam The press was emancipated from the cen- has most truly said and most ably shown, those sorship soon after the Revolution, and the go- which it indirectly produced. Thenceforward vernment fell immediately under the censor- it became the interest of the executive govorn. ship of the fress. Statesmen had a scrutiny ment to protect those very doctrines which an to endure which was every day becoming more executive government is in general inclined and more severe. The extreme violence of to persecute. The sovereign, the ministers, opinions abated. The Whigs learned modera- the courtiers, at last even the universities and tion in office; the Tories learned the principles the clergy, were changed into advocates or of liberty in' opposition. The parties almost the right of resistance. In the theory of the constantly approximated, often met, sometimes Whigs, in the situation of the Tories, in the crossed each other. There were occasional common interest of all public men, the Parlia bursts of violence; but from the time of the Re-mentary constitution of the country found pervolution those bursts were constantly becom- fect security. The power of the House of ing less and less terrible. The severities with Commons, in particular, has been steadily on which the Tories, at the close of the reign vil the increase. By the practice of granting eur

plies for short terms, and appropriating them to particular services, it has rendered its approbation as necessary in practice to all the measures of the executive government as it is in theory to a legislative act. Mr. Haslam appears to have begun with the reign of Henry the Seventh, as the period at which what is called modern history, in contradistinction to the history of the middle ages, is generally supposed to commence. He has stopped at the accession of George the Third, “from unwillingness,” as he says, “to excite the prejudices of modern politics, especially those connected with personal character.” These two eras, we think, deserved the distinction on other grounds. Our remote posterity, when looking back on our history in that comprehensive manner in which remote posterity alone can without much danger of error look back on it, will probably observe those points with peculiar interest. They are, if we mistake not, the beginning and the end of an entire and separate chapter in our annals. The period which lies between them is a perfect cycle, a great year of the public mind. In the reign of Henry the Seventh, all the political difference” which had agitated England since the Norman conquest seemed to set at rest. The long and fierce struggle between the crown and the barons had terminated. The grievances which had produced the rebellions of Tyler and Cade had disappeared. Willanage was scarcely known. The two royal houses whose conflicting claims had long convulsed the kingdom were at length united. The claimants whose pretensions, just or unjust, had disturbed the new settlement were overthrown. In religion there was no open dissent, and probably very little secret heresy. The old subjects of contention, in short, had vanished; those which were to succeed had not yet appeared. Soon, however, new principles were announced; principles which were destined to keep England during two centuries and a half in a state of commotion. The Reformation divided the people into two great parties. The Protestants were victorious. They again subdivided themselves. Political systems were engrasted on theological doctrines. The mutual animosities of the two parties gradually emerged into the light of public life. First came conflicts in Parliament; then civil war; then revolutions upcn revolutions, each attended by its appurtenance of proscriptions, and persecutions, and tests; each followed by severe measures on the part of the conquerors; each exciting a deadly and festering hatred in the conquered. During the reign of George the Second things were evidently tending to repose. At the close of it the nation had completed the great revolution which commenced in the early part of the sixteenth cen: tury, and was again at rest. The fury of sects had died away. The Catholics themselves practically enjoyed toleration; and more than toleration they did not yet venture even to desire. Jacobitism was a mere name. Nobody was left to fight for that wretched cause, and very few to drink for it. The constitution,

[blocks in formation]

tions of party, which must almost always be

found in a free state, could scarcely be traced. The two great bodies which from the time of the Revolution had been gradually tending to approximation, were now united in emulous support of that splendid administration which smote to the dust both the branches of the house of Bourbon. The great battle for our ecclesiastical and civil polity had been fought and won. The wounds had been healed. The victors and the vanquished were rejoicing together. Every person acquainted with the political writers of the last generation will recollect the terms in which they generally speak of that time. It was a glimpse of a golden age of union and glory—a short interval of rest which had been preceded by centuries of agitation, and which centuries of agitation were destined to follow. How soon faction again began to ferment, is well known. In the Letters of Junius, in Burke's Thoughts on the Cause of the Discontents, and in many other writings of less merit, the violent dissensions, which speedily convulsed the country, are imputed to the system of favouritism which George the Third introduced, to the influence of Bute, or the profligacy of those who called themselves the king's friends. With all deference to the eminent writers to whom we have referred, we may venture to say that they lived too near the events of which they treated, to judge of them correctly. The schism which was then appearing in the nation, and which has been from that time almost constantly widening, had little in common with those which had divided it during the reigns of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The symptoms of popular feeling, indeed, will always in a great measure be the same; but the principle which excited that feeling was here new. The support which was given to Wilkes, the clamour for reform during the American war, the disaffected conduct of large classes of people at the time of the French Revolution, no more resembled the opposition which had been offered to the government of Charles the Second, than that opposition resembled the contest between the Roses. In the political as in the natural body, a sensation is often referred to a part widely differ. ent from that in which it really resides. A man, whose leg is cut off, fancies that he feels a pain in his toe. And in the same manner the people, in the earlier part of the late reign, sincerely attributed their discontent to grievances which had been effectually lopped off. They imagined that the prerogative was too strong for the constitution, that the principles of the Revolution were abandoned, and the system of the Stuarts restored. Every impartial man must now acknowledge that these charges were groundless. The proceedings of the government with respect to the Middlesex election would have been contemplated with delight by the first generation of Whigs. They would have thought it a splendid triumph of the cause of liberty, that the King and the

Lords should resign to the House of Commons

[ocr errors]

a portion of their legislative power, and allow it to incapacitate without their consent. This, indeed, Mr. Burke clearly perceived. “When the House of Commons,” says he, “in an endeavour to obtain new advantages at the expense of the other orders of the state, for the benefit of the commons at large, have pursued strong measures, if it were not just, it was at heast natural, that the constituents should conhive at all their proceedings; because we ourselves were ultimately to profit. But when this submission is urged to us in a contest between the representatives and ourselves, and where nothing can be put into their scale which is not taken from ours, they fancy us to be children when they tell us that they are our representatives, our own flesh and blood, and that all the stripes they give us are for our good.” These sentences contain, in fact, the whole explanation of the mystery. The conflict of the seventeenth century was maintained by the Parliament against the crown. The conflict which commenced in the middle of the eighteenth century, which still remains undecided, and in which our children and grandchildren will probably be called to act or suffer, is between a large portion of the people on the one side, and the crown and the Parliament united on the other. The privileges of the House of Commons, those privileges which, in 1642. all London rose in arms to defend, which the people considered as synonymous with their own liberties, and in comparison with which they took no account of the most precious and sacred principles of English jurisprudence, have now become nearly as odious as the rigours of martial law. That power of committing, which the people anciently loved to see the House of Commons exercise, is now, at least, when employed against libellers, the most unpopular power in the constitution. If the Commons were to suffer the Lords to amend money-bills, we do not believe that the people would care one straw about the matter. If they were to suffer the Lords even to originate money-bills, we doubt whether such a surrender of their constitutional rights would excite half so much dissatisfaction as the exclusion of strangers from a single important discussion. The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm. The publication of the debates, a practice which seemed to the most liberal statesmen of the old school full of danger to the great safeguards of public liberty, is now regarded by many persons as a safeguard, tantamount, and more than tantamount, to all the rest together. Burke, in a speech on parliamentary reform, which is the more remarkable because it was delivered long before the French Revolution, has described, in striking language, the change in public feeling of which we speak. “It sug

gests melancholy reflections,” says he, “in

consequence of the strange course we have long held, that we are now no longer quarrelling about the character, or about the conduct of men, or the tenour of measures; but we are grown out of humour with the English constitution itself; this is become the object of the animosity of 12nglishmen. This constituVol. I-13

tion in former days used to be the envy of the world; it was the pattern for politicians; the theme of the eloquent; the meditation of the philosopher in every part of the world.—As to Englishmen, it was their pride, their consola tion. By it they lived, and for it they were ready to die. Its defects, if it had any, were partly covered by partiality, and partly borne by prudence. Now all its excellencies are forgot, its faults are forcibly dragged into day, exaggerated by every artifice of misrepresentation. It is despised and rejected of men; and every device and invention of ingenuity or idleness is set up in opposition, or in preference to it.” We neither adopt nor condemn the language of reprobation which the great orator here employs. We call him only as witness to the fact. That the revolution of public feeling which he described was then in progress is indisputable; and it is equally indisputable, we think, that it is in progress still. To investigate and classify the cause of so great a change, would require far more thought, and far more space, than we at present have to bestow. But some of them are obvious. During the contest which the Parliament carried on against the Stuarts, it had only to check and complain. It has since had to govern. As an attacking body, it could select its points of attack, and it naturally chose those on which it was likely to receive public support. As a ruling body, it has neither the same liberty of choice, nor the same interest to gratify the people. With the power of an executive government, it has drawn to itself some of the vices and all the unpopularity of an executive government. On the House of Commons, above all, possessed as it is of the public purse, and consequently of the public sword, the nation throws all the blame of an ill-conducted war, of a blundering negotiation, of a disgraceful treaty, of anembarrassing commercialcrisis. The delays of the Court of Chancery, the misconduct of a judge at Van Diemen's land, any thing, in short, which in any part of the admi nistration any person feels as a grievance, is attributed to the tyranny, or at least to the negligence, of that all-powerful body. Private individuals pester it with their wrongs and claims. A merchantappeals to it from the courts of Rio Janeiro or St. Petersburg. A painter, who can find nobody to buy the acre of spoiled canvass, which he calls an historical picture, pours into its sympathizing ear the whole story of his debts and his jealousies. Anciently the Parliament resembled a member of opposition, from whom no places are expected, who is not required to confer favours and propose measures, but merely to watch and censure; and who may, therefore, unless he is grossly injudicious, be popular with the great body of the community. The Parliament now resembles the same person put into office, surrounded by petitioners, whom twenty times his patronage would not satisfy, stunned with complaints, buried in memorials, compelled by the duties of his station to bring forward measures simi: lar to those which he was formerly accustomed to observe and to check, and perpetually encountered by objections similar to those which it was formerly his * to raise.

« PreviousContinue »