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Perhaps it may be laid down as a general rule, that a legislative assembly, not constituted on democratic principles, cannot be popular long after it ceases to be weak. Its zeal for what the people, rightly or wrongly, conceive to be their interest, its sympathy with their mutable and violent passions, are merely the effects of the particular circumstances in which it is placed. "As long as it depends for existence on the public favour, it will employ all the means in its power to conciliate that favour. While this is the case, defects in its constitution are of little consequence. But as the close union of such a body with the nation is the effect of an identity of interest, not essential, but accidental, it is in some measure dissolved from the time at which the danger which produced it ceases to exist. Hence, before the Revolution, the question of parliamentary reform was of very little importance. The friends of liberty had no very ardent wish for it. The strongest Tories saw no objections to it. It is remarkable that Clarendon loudly applauds the changes which Cromwell introduced, changes far stronger than the Whigs of the present day would in general approve. There is no reason to think, however, that the reform effected by Cromwell made any great difference in the conduct of the Parliament. Indeed, if the House of Commons had, during the reign of Charles the Second, been elected by universal suffrage, or if all the seats had been put up to sale, as in the French Parliaments, it would, we suspect, have acted very much as it did. We know how strongly the Parliament of Paris exerted itself in favour of the people on many important occasions; and the reason is evident. Though it did not emanate from the people, its whole consequence depended on the support of the eople. - From the time of the Revolution the House of Commons was gradually becoming what it now is—a great council of state, containing many members chosen freely by the people, and many others anxious to acquire the favour of the people; but, on the whole, aristocratical in its temper and interest. It is very far from being an illiberal and stupid oligarchy; but it is equally far from being an express image of the general feeling. It is influenced by the opinion of the people, and influenced powerfully, but slowly and circuitously. Instead of outrunning the public mind, as before the Revolution it frequently did, it now follows with slow steps and at a wide distance. It is therefore necessarily unpopular; and the more so, because the good which it produces is much less evident to common !. than the evil which it inflicts. It rears the blame of all the mischief which is done, or supposed to be done, by its authority or by its connivance. It does not get the credit, on the other hand, of having prevented those innumerable abuses which do not exist solely because the House of Commons exists. A large part of the nation is certainly destrous of a reform in the representative system. How large that part may be, and how strong “s desires on the subject may be, it is difficult to say. It is only at intervals that the clamour
on the subject is loud and vehement. But it seems to us that, during the remissions, the feeling gathers strength, and that every successive burst is more violent than that which preceded it. The public attention may be for a time diverted to the Catholic claims or the mercantile code; but it is probable that at no
very distant period, perhaps in the lifetime of...
the present generation, all other questions wi merge in that which is, in a certain degree, connected with them all. Already we seem to ourselves to perceive the signs of unquiet times, the vague presentiment of something great and strange which pervades the community; the restless and turbid hopes of those who have every thing to gain, the dimly-hinted forebodings of those who have every thing to lose. Many indications might be mentioned, in themselves indeed as insignificant as straws; but even the direction of a straw, to borrow the illustration of Bacon, will show from what quarter the hurricane is setting in. A great statesman might, by judicious and timely reformations, by reconciling the two great branches of the natural aristocracy, the capitalists and the landowners, by so widening the base of the government as to interest in its defence the whole of the middling class, that brave, honest, and sound-hearted class, which is as anxious for the maintenance of order and the security of property as it is hostile to corruption and oppression, succeed in averting a struggle to which no rational friend of liberty or of law can look forward without great apprehensions. There are those who will be contented with nothing but demolition; and there are those who shrink from all repair. There are innovators who long for a President and a National Convention ; and there are bigots who, while cities larger and richer than the capitals of many great kingdoms are calling out for representatives to watch over their interests, select some hackneyed jobber in boroughs, some peer of the narrowest and smallest mind, as the fittest depositary of a forfeited franchise. Between these extremes there lies a more excellent way. Time is bringing around another crisis analogous to that which occurred in the seventeenth century. We stand in a situation similar to that in which our ancestors stood under the reign of James the First. It will soon again be necessary to reform, that we . preserve; to save the fundamental principles of the constitution, by alterations in the subordinate parts. It will then be possible, as it was possible two hundred years ago, to protect vested rights, to secure every useful institution—every institution endeared by antiquity and noble associations; and, at the same time, to introduce into the system improvements harmonizing with the criginal plan. It remains to be seen whether two hundred years have made us wiser. We know of no great revolution which might not have been prevented by compromise early and graciously made. Firmness is a great virtue in public affairs, but it has its proper sphere. Conspiracies and insurrections in which timall minorities are engaged, the outbreakings of popular violence unconnected
with any extensive project or any durable principle, are best repressed by vigour and decision. To shrink from them is to make them formidable. But no wise ruler will confound the pervading taint with the slight local irritation. No wise ruler will treat the deeply-seated discontents of a great party as he treats the conduct of a mob which destroys mills and powerlooms. The neglect of this distinction has been fatal even to governments strong in the power of the sword. The present time is indeed a time of peace and order. But it is at such a time that fools are most thoughtless, and wise men most thoughtful. That the dis
contents which have agitated the country dur. ing the late and the present reign, and which, though not always noisy, are never wholly dormant, will again break forth with aggravated symptoms, is almost as certain as that the tides and seasons will follow their appointed course. But in all movements of the human mind which tend to great revolutio ere is a crisis at which moderate conces may amend, conciliate, and preserve. Happy will it be for England if, at that crisis, her interests be confided to men for whom history has not recorded the long series of human crimes and follies in Wallil.
SOUTHEY'S COLLOQUIES ON SOCIETY.”
[EDINBURGH Review, 1830.]
Ir would be scarcely possible for a man of Mr. Southey's talents and acquirements to write two volumes so large as those before us, which should be wholly destitute of information and amusement. Yet we do not remember to have read with so little satisfaction any equal quantity of matter, written by any man of real abilities. We have, for some time past, observed with great regret the strange infatuation which leads the Poet-laureate to abandon those departments of literature in which he might excel, and to lecture the public on 'sciences of which he has still the very alphabet to learn. He has now, we think, done his worst. The subject, which he has at last undertaken to treat, is one which demands all the highest intellectual and moral qualities of a philosophical statesman—an understanding at once comprehensive and acute—a heart at once upright and charitable. Mr. Southey brings to the task two faculties which were never, we believe, vouchsafed in measure so copious to any human being; the faculty of believing without a reason, and the faculty of hating without a provocation.
It is, indeed, most extraordinary that a mind like Mr. Southey's, a mind richly endowed in many respects by nature and highly cultivated by study, a mind which has exercised considerable influence on the most enlightened generation of the most enlightened people that ever existed, should be utterly destitute of the power of discerning truth from falsehood. Yet such is the fact. Government is to Mr. Southey one of the fine arts. He judges of a theory or a public measure, of a religion, a political party, a peace or a war, as men judge of a picture or a statue, by the effect produced on his imagination. A chain of associations is to him what a chain of reasoning is to other men; and what he calls his opinions, are in fact merely his tastes.
* Sir Thomas More; or Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society. By Robert Southey, Esq., LL.D. Poet Laureate. 2 vols. 8vo, London. 1829.
Part of this description might, perhaps, apply to a much greater man, Mr. Burke. But Mr. Burke, assuredly possessed an understanding admirably fitted for the investigation of truth—an understanding stronger than that of any statesman, active or speculative, of the eighteenth century—stronger than everything, except his own fierce and ungovernable sensibility. Hence, he generally chose his side like a fanatic, and defended it like a philosopher. His conduct, in the most important events of his life, at the time of the impeachment of Hastings, for example, and at the time of the French Revolution, seems to have been prompted by those feelings and motives which Mr. Coleridge has so happily described:
“Stormy pity, and the cherish'd lure
Hindostan, with its vast cities, its gorgeous pagodas, its infinite swarms of dusky population, its long-descended dynasties, its stately etiquette, excited in a mind so capacious, so imaginative, and so susceptible, the most intense interest. The peculiarities of the costume, of the manners, and of the laws, the very mystery which hung over the language and origin of the people seized his imagination. To plead in Westminster Hall, in the name of the English people, at the bar of the English nobles, for
great nations and kings separated from him by
half the world, seemed to him the height of human glory. Again, it is not difficult to perceive, that his hostility to the French Revolution principally arose from the vexation which he felt, at having all his old political associations disturbed, at seeing the well-known boundarymarks of states obliterated, and the names and distinctions with which the history of Europe had been filled for ages, swept away. He felt like an antiquary whose shield had been scoured, or a connoisseur who found his Ti
tian retouched. But however he came by an opinion, he had no sooner got it than he did his. best to make out a legitimate title to it. His reason, like a spirit in the service of an en' chanter, though spell-bound, was still mighty. It did whatever work his passions and his imagination might impose. But it did that
work, however arduous, with marvellous dexHis course was not de
terity and vigour. termined by argument; but he could defend the wildest course by arguments more plausible than "...o. which common men support epinions w they have adopted, after the fullest deliberation. Reason has scarcely ever displayed, even in those well-constituted minds of which she occupies the throne, so much power and energy as in the lowest offices of that imperial servitude. Now, in the mind of Mr. Southey, reason has no place at all, as either leader or follower, as either sovereign or slave. He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of his opponents. It has never occurred to him, that a man ought to be able to give some better account of the way in which he has arrived at his opinions, than merely that it is his will and pleasure to hold them, that there is a difference between assertion and demonstration, that a rumour does not always prove a fact, that a fact does
not always prove a theory, that two contradic
tory propositions cannot be undeniable truths, that to beg the question is not the way to settle it, or that when an objection is raised, it ought to met with something more convincing than “scoundrel” and “blockhead.” It would be absurd to read the works of such a writer for political instruction. The utmost that can be expected from any system promulgated by him is, that it may be splendid and affecting, that it may suggest sublime and pleasing images. His scheme of philosophy is a mere daydream, a poetical creation, like the Domdaniel caverns, the Swerga, or Padalon; and, indeed, it bears no inconsiderable resemblance to those gorgeous visions. Like them it has something of invention, grandeur, and brilliancy. But, like them, it is grotesque and extravagant, and perpetually violates that conventional probability which is essential to the effect even of works of art. The warmest admirers of Mr. Southey will scarcely, we think, deny that his success has almost always borne an inverse proportion to the degree in which his undertakings have required a logical head. His poems, taken in the mass, stand far higher than his prose works. The Laureate Odes, indeed, among which the Vision of Judgment must be classed, are, for the most part, worse than Pye's and as bad as Cibber's; nor do we think him generally happy in short pieces. But his longer poems, though full of faults, are nevertheless very extraordinary productions. We doubt greatly whether they will be read fifty years hence; but that if they are read, they will be admired, we have no doubt whatever. But though in general we prefer Mr. Southey's poetry to his prose, we must make one exception. The Life of Nelson is, beyond all doubt, the most perfect and the most delightful
therefore an advantage to him to be furnished with an outline of characters and events, and to have no other task to perform than that of touching the cold sketch into life. No writer, perhaps, ever lived, whose talents so precisely qualified him to write the history of the great naval warrior. There were no fine riddles of the human heart to read, no theories to found, no hidden causes to develope, no remote consequences to predict. The character of the hero lay on the surface. The exploits were brilliant and picturesque. The necessity of adhering to the real course of events saved Mr. Southey from those faults which deform the original plan of almost every one of his poems, and which even his innumerable beauties of detail scarcely redeem. The subject did not require the exercise of those reasoning powers the want of which is the blemish of his prose. It would not be easy to find, in all literary history, an instance of a more exact hit between wind and water. John Wesley, and the Peninsular War, were subjects of a very different kind, subjects which required all the qualities of a philosophic historian. In "Mr. Southey's works on these subjects, he has, on the whole, failed. Yet there are charming specimens of the art of narration in both of them. The Lise of Wesley will probably live. Defective as it is, it contains the only popular account of a most remarkable moral revolution, and of a man whose eloquence and logical acuteness might have rendered him eminent in literature, whose genius for government was not inferior to that of Richelieu, and who, whatever his errors may have been, devoted all his powers, in defiance of obloquy and derision, to what he sincerely considered as the highest good of his species, The History of the Peninsular War is already dead: indeed the second volume was deadborn. The glory of producing an imperishable record of that great conflict seems to be reserved for Colonel Napier. The Book of the Church contains some stories very prettily told. The rest is mere rubbish. The adventure was manifestly one which could be achieved only by a profound thinker, and in which even a profound thinker might have failed, unless his passions had been kept under strict control. In all those works in which Mr. Southey has completely abandoned narration, and undertaken to argue moral and political questions, his failure has been complete and ignominious. On such occasions his writings are rescued from utter contempt and derision, solely by the beauty and purity of the English. We find, we consess, so great a charm in Mr. Southey's style, that, even when he writes nonsense, we ge. nerally read it with pleasure, except indeed when he tries to be droll. A more insuffera. ble jester never existed. He very often attempts to be humorous, and yet we do not remember a single occasion on which he has succeeded farther than to be quaintly and flippantly dull. In one of his works, he tells us that Bishop Sprat was very properly so called, inasmuch as he was a very small poet. And
of his works. The fact is, as his poems most in the book now before us, he cannót quote *bundantly prove, that he is by no means so Francis Bugg without a remark on his unsa.
*kilful in designing as filling up.
It was vory name.
A man might-talk folly-like this by his own fireside; but that any human being, after having made such a joke, should write it down, and copy it out, and transmit it to the printer, and correct the proof-sheets, and send it forth into the world, is enough to make us ashamed of our species. The extraordinary bitterness of spirit which Mr. Southey manifests towards his opponents is, no doubt, in a great measure to be attributed to the manner in which he forms his opinions. Differences of taste, it has often been remarked, produce greater exasperation than differences on points of science. But this is not all. A peculiar austerity marks almost all Mr. Southey's judgments of men and actions. We are far from blaming him for fixing on a high standard of morals, and for applying that standard to every case. But rigour ought to be accompanied by discernment, and of discernment Mr. Southey seems to be utterly destitute. His mode of judging is monkish; it is exactly what we should ext from a stern old Benedictine, who had en preserved from many ordinary frailties by the restraints of his situation. No man out of a cloister ever wrote about love, for example, so coldly and at the same time so grossly. His descriptions of it are just what we should hear from a recluse, who knew the passion only from the details of the confessional. Almost all his heroes make love either like seraphim or like cattle. He seems to have no notion of any thing between the Platonic passion of the Glendoveer, who gazes with rapture on his mistress's leprosy, and the brutal appetite of Arvalan and Roderick. In Roderick, indeed, the two characters are united. He is first all clay, and then all spirit, he goes forth a Tarquin, and comes back too ethereal to be married. The only love-scene, as far as we can recollect, in Madoc, consists of the delicate attentions which a savage, who has drunk too much of the Prince's metheglin, offers to Goervyl. It would be the labour of a week to find, in all the vast mass of Mr. Southey's poetry, a single passage indicating any sympathy with those feelings which have consecrated the shades of Vaucluse and the rocks of Meillerie. Indeed, if we except some very pleasing images of paternal tenderness and filial duty, there is scarcely anything soft or humane in Mr. Southey's poetry. What theologians call the spiritual sins are his cardinal virtues— hatred, pride, and the insatiable thirst of vengeance. These passions he disguises under the name of duties; he purifies them from the alloy of vulgar interests; he ennobles them by uniting them with energy, fortitude, and a severe sanctity of manners, and then holds them up to the admiration of mankind. This is the spirit of Thalaba, of Ladurlad, of Adosinda, of Roderick after his regeneration. It is the spirit which, in all his writings, Mr. Southey appears to effect. “I do well to be angry.” seems to be the predominant feeling of his mind. Almost the only mark of charity which he vouchsafes to his opponents is to pray for their conversion, and this he does in terms not unlike those in which we can imagine a Portuguese priest interceding with Heaven for a
Jew, delivered over to the secular arm after a relapse. We have always heard, and fully believe, that Mr. Southey is a very amiable and hu. mane man; nor do we intend to apply to him personally any of the remarks which we have made on the spirit of his writings. Such are the caprices of human nature. Even Uncle Toby troubled himself very little about the French grenadiers who fell on the glacis of Namur. And when Mr. Southey takes up his pen, he changes his nature as much as Captain Shandy when he girt on his sword. The only opponents to whom he gives quarter are those in whom he finds something of his own character reflected. He seems to have an instinctive antipathy for calm, moderate menfor men who shun extremes, and who render reasons. He has treated Mr. Owen of Lanark, for example, with infinitely more respect than he has shown to Mr. Hallam or to Dr. Lingard; and this for no reason than we can discover except that Mr. Owen is more unreasonably and hopelessly in the wrong than any speculator of our time. Mr. Southey's political system is just what we might expect from a man who regards politics, not as a matter of science, but as a matter of taste and feeling. All his schemes of government have been inconsistent with themselves. In his youth he was a republican ; yet, as he tells us in his preface to these Colloquies, he was even then opposed to the Catholic claims. He is now a violent UltraTory. Yet while he maintains, with vehemence approaching to ferocity, all the sterner and harsher parts of the Ultra-Tory theory of government, the baser and dirtier part of that theory disgusts him. Exclusion, persecution, severe punishments for libellers and demagogues, proscriptions, massacres, civil war, if necessary, rather than any concession to a discontented people—these are the measures which he seems inclined to recommend. A severe and gloomy tyranny, crushing opposition, silencing remonstrance, drilling the minds of the people into unreasoning obedience, has in it something of grandeur which delights his imagination. But there is nothing fine in the shabby tricks and jobs of office. And Mr. Southey, accordingly, has no toleration for them. When a democrat, he did not perceive that his system led logically, and would have led practically, to the removal of religious distinctions. He now commits a similar error. He renounces the abject and paltry part of the creed of his party, without perceiving that it is also an essential part of that creed. He would have tyranny and purity together; though the most superficial observation might have shown him that there can be no tyranny without corruption. It is high time, however, that we should pro. ceed to the consideration of the work, which is our more immediate subject, and which, indeed, illustrates in almost every page, our general remarks on Mr. Southey's writings. In the preface, we are informed that the author, notwithstanding some statements to the con trary, was always opposed to the Catholie claims. We fully believe this; both because we are sure that Mr. Southey is incapable of publishing a deliberate falsehood, and because his averment is in itself probable. It is exactly what we should have expected that, even in his wildest paroxysms of democratic enthusiasm, Mr. Southey would have felt no wish to see a simple remedy applied to a great practical evil; that the only measure, which all the great statesmen of two generations have agreed with each other in supporting, would be the only measure which Mr. Southey would have agreed with himself in opposing. He had passed from one extreme of political opinion to another, as Satan in Milton went round the globe, contriving constantly to “ride with darkness.” Wherever the thickest shadow of the night may at any moment chance to fall, there is Mr. Southey. It is not everybody who could have so dexterously avoided blundering on the daylight in the course of a journey to the antipodes. Mr. Southey has not been fortunate in the plan of any of his fictitious narratives. But he has never failed so conspicuously as in the work before us; except, indeed, in the wretched Vision of Judgment. In November, 1817, it seems, the laureate was sitting over his newspaper, and meditating about the death of the Princess Charlotte. An elderly person, of very dignified aspect, makes his appearance, announces himself as a stranger from a distant country, and apologizes very politely for not having provided himself with letters of introduction. Mr. Southey supposes his visiter to be some American gentleman, who has come to see the lakes and the lake-poets, and accordingly proceeds to perform, with that grace which only long experience can give, all the duties which authors owe to starers. He assures his guest that some of the most agreeable visits which he has received have been from Americans, and that he knows men among them whose talents and virtues would do honour to any country. In passing, we may observe, to the honour of Mr. Southey, that, though he evidently has no liking for the American institutions, he never speaks of the people of the United States with that pitiful affectation of contempt, by which some members of his party have done more than wars or tariffs can do to excite mutual enmity between two communities formed for mutual friendship. Great as the faults of his mind are, paltry spite like this has no place in it. Indeed, it is scarcely conceivable that a man of his sensibility and his imagination should look without pleasure and national pride on the vigorous and splendid youth of a great people, whose veins are filled with our blood, whose minds are nourished with our literature, and on whom is entailed the rich inheritance of our civilization, our freedom, and our glory. But we mustnow return to Mr. Southey's study at Keswick. The visiter informs the hospitable poet that he is not an American, but a spirit. Mr. Southey, with more frankness than civility, tells hiri that he is a very queer one. The *tranger holds out, his hand. It has neither
weight nor substance. Mr. Southey upon this becomes more serious; his hair stands on end: | *nd he adjures the spectre to tell him what he
o is, and why he comes. The ghost turns out to be Sir Thomas More. The traces of martyrdom, it seems, are worn in the other world, as stars and ribands are worn in this. Sir Thomas shows the poet a red streak round his neck, brighter than a ruby, and informs him that Cranmer wears a suit of flames in Paradise, the right-hand glove, we suppose, of peculiar brilliancy. Sir Thomas pays but a short visit on this occasion, but promises to cultivate the new acquaintance which he has formed, and, after begging that his visit may be kept secret from Mrs. Southey, vanishes into air. The rest of the book consists of conversations between Mr. Southey and the spirit about trade, currency, Catholic emancipation, periodical literature, female nunneries, butchers, snuff, book-stalls, and a hundred other subjects. Mr. Southey very hospitably takes an opportunity to lionize the ghost round the lakes, and directs his attention to the most beautiful points of-view. Why a spirit was to be evoked for the purpose of talking over such matters, and seeing such sights, when the vicar of the parish, a blue-stocking from London, or an American, such as Mr. Southey supposed his aérial visiter to be, might not have done as well, we are unable to conceive. Sir Thomas tells Mr. Southey nothing about future events, and indeed absolutely disclaims the gift of prescience. He has learned to talk modern English: he has read all the new publications, and loves a jest as well as when he jested with the executioner, though we cannot say that the quality of his wit has materially improved in Paradise. His powers of reasoning, too, are by no means in as great vigour as when he sate on the woolsack; and though he boasts that he is “divested of all those passions which cloud the intellects and warp the understandings of men,” we think him, we must confess, far less stoical than formerly. As to revelations, he tells Mr. Southey at the outset to expect none from him. The laureate expresses some doubts, which assuredly will not raise him in the opinion of our modern millenarians, as to the divine authority of the Apocalypse. But the ghost preserves an impenetrable silence. As far as we remember, only one hint about the employments of disembodied spirits escapes him. He encourages Mr. Southey to hope that there is a Paradise Press, at which all the valuable publications of Mr. Murray and Mr. Colburn are reprinted as regularly as at Philadelphia; and delicately insirotes, that Thalaba and the Curse of Kehama are among the number. What a contrast does this absurd fiction present to those charming narratives which Plato and Cicero prefix to their dialogues: What cost in machinery, yet what poverty of effect! A ghost brought in to say what any man might have said : The glorified spirit of a great statesman and philosopher dawdling, like a bilious old nabob at a watering-place, over quarterly reviews and novels, dropping in to pay long calls, making excursions in search of the picturesque ! The scene of St. George and St. Denys in the Pucelle is hardly more ridiculous... We know what Voltaire meant. Nobody, however, can suppose that Mr