« PreviousContinue »
interest, is tossed on the sea of life, The freedom which is now so much without any definite or permanent the object of deserved eulogium, was object. The fortunes of the state nursed in its cradle by the feudal crumble with the successive disper- nobility. It was beneath the shadow sion of individual accumulation ; of the castle-wall that industry, civiland generation after generation suc- isation, and improvement, first took ceeds, without any addition either to root; in every part of Europe the the national stability, or any improve- earliest seeds of liberty expanded ment in the national fortune.
under the protection of hereditary It is easy to declaim, now that we power. The traveller, as he glides have obtained the advantages of re- along the Rhine, or descends the ra, gular government, against the tyranny pid stream of the Rhone, or skirts and oppression of the feudal nobi- the tower-clad heights of the Appelity; without that institution, Euro-, nines, can still discern in the villages pean civilisation would have become which are clustered round the roots extinct during the anarchy of the of the castellated heights, the indark ages, or yielded to the fury of Auence of aristocratic
proMahometan conquest. All that we tecting the first efforts of laborious now possess, or that distinguishes us industry. Magna Charta was exfrom the Asiatic people-our laws, torted from a pusillanimous moour liberties, our religion-have bee narch by a combination of the feu. preserved by the barrier of the feudal dal nobility: the early liberties of aristocracy. “ Gratefully we must France, Germany, and Spain, were acknowledge,” says Hallam, established by the same influence, the territorial nobility were, during in opposition to the encroachments the dark ages, the chief support not of royal power. For centuries beonly against foreign invasion, but fore the people had thought of modomestic tyranny; and that violence ving in defence of their liberties, or would have rioted without control, were capable of understanding the if, when the people were poor and meaning of freedom, it had been the disunited, the barons had not been object of repeated contests on the independent and free.”* What was part of the hereditary nobility. it that enabled European valour to Nor let it be imagined, that these stem the torrent of Mahometan con- advantages are all past-that a new quest—who saved Christian civil- era has opened in human affairs isation from Asiatic oppression on and that having made use of an hethe field of Tours—who combated reditary nobility in the infancy of the forces of the Saracens in their society, we can now with safety disown domains, and fought the battle card their assistance. They are not of European freedom on the fields less needed in the advanced than of Palestine ? Who expelled the the early stages of nations: the danArabs from Spain, and maintained gers to freedom are as great now as for eight centuries an uninterrupted in the days of Magna Charta: the contest with the Moorish spoiler ? power by which it is assailed is more The nobility of Europe—the territo- formidable than the array of the rial barons, permanently interested Plantagenet kings. in the soil by the hereditary posses- The danger to be apprehended sion of estates, and actuated by un- now is, that, by the destruction of decaying spirit from the descent of the power of the nobility, we shall family honours. Compare the steady be handed over, first, to the horrors progress, regular government, and of popular licentiousness, and, next, unceasing improvement, of the Euro- to the tranquillity of undisturbed despean states, with the perpetual vacil- potism. This is not a fanciful apprelation, periodical anarchy, and gene- hension—it is the uniform bistory of ral slavery of the Asiatic dynasties, the decay of freedom in past ages : and the immeasurable benefits of an future historians will probably point hereditary nobility must appear ob- to the present Reform Bill, as the vious to the most inconsiderate ob- first step in the extinction of British How long did the liberties of Eng- of Rome, worn out with dissensions land survive the destruction of the of democratic violence, and shattered House of Peers, and the assumption by the collision of military with poof absolute power by the Long Par- pular power, fly for refuge under the liament? What was the consequence shadow of despotism, and seek in of the almost total annihilation of the servility of the empire, that the Norman aristocracy by the wars security which could no longer be of the Roses? The despotism of found amidst the storms of the rethe Tudors-the cruel severity of public ? Henry VIII.—the fires of Smithfield The destruction of Roman free-the arbitrary reign of Elizabeth. dom was immediately owing to the It is a fact well worthy of notice, that people revolting against the aristo-the most arbitrary reign in the Eng- cracy. The firmness and steadiness lish annals, that in which the great of the senate had long preserved the est number of executions (72,000) fortunes and favoured the growth took place on the scaffold, the great of the republic; but when plebeian est confiscation of private property ambition prevailed over aristocra, was inflicted, the most arbitrary al- tic power, the vacillation and conterations in the laws effected, suc- vulsions immediately commenced, ceeded immediately the virtual ex- which were the sure forerunners of tinction of the feudal nobility by the military despotism. Marius, the first civil wars.
* Middle Ages.
The spirit of the Com- consul of plebeian blood, brought mons perished with its support in the the democracy into immediate colterritorial aristocracy: it seemed as lision with the aristocracy; and, but if the Barons of Runnymede had for the magnanimous surrender of been succeeded by the senate of Ti. absolute power by Sylla, the liberberius. To such a degree of pliant ties of Rome had perished in the servility did the Commons arrive, first struggle. The democracy afterthat they actually declared the King's wards chose Cæsar as their leader: proclamations equal to acts of Par- the eloquent apologist of Catiline's fiament, and petitioned the monarchs Conspiracy commanded all the suffor a list of members to be returned frages of the popular party; and by in the succeeding Parliament!* a popular act, in opposition to the
How long did the liberties of the most vehement resistance from the French monarchy outlive the de- senate, they twice conferred upon cline of the feudal nobility, under him, for five years, the important the crafty policy of Mazarine and province of Gaul, with five legions. Richlieu ? What became of the The subjugation of Rome, therefore, boasted liberties of Arragon and Cas- and the extinction of its freedom, tile, when their nobles were crushed was only immediately owing to miby the despotism of the Austrian litary ambition; its remote cause is monarchs, or corrupted by the wealth to be found in the democratic spirit of American slavery? After the which had placed power in the hands Patricians were corrupted, and the of that ambition—and this was the Plebeians left alone in presence of work of the plebeians, blindly rushmilitary power, how long did the ing, like our reformers, upon their freedom of Rome survive? When own ruin, out of jealousy to their the nobility fought the last battle of hereditary legislators. Roman virtue at Pharsalia, did not Freedom in the Italian republics the people fill the ranks of the usur- was entirely of aristocratical birth : per, and join with him in forging In the freest period of Italian bischains for their country? Did not tory, 20,000 citizens in the great the children of the very men who towns of Florence, Genoa, Milan, had burned with Gracchus in the Venice, Pisa, and Sienna, gave law forum, and shaken by democratic to as many millions of people. When violence the firm bulwark of the the progress of opulence, when five republic, break, under the dictator, centuries of civilisation, had corthe liberties of their country, and rupted the citizens of the republics, extinguish its last embers on the what became of Italian freedom field of Philippi ? Did not the citizens Did the people alone, without the
• Mackintosh's England, vol. ll. p. 342.
aid of their superiors, long maintain may succeed during a moment of the fabric of liberty ? It everywhere extraordinary effervescence, but they crumbled into ruins ; in some in- are incapable of the sustained and stances, on the first assault of exter- systematic efforts requisite for lastnal violence, in most, by the volun- ing success. The regular and unitary surrender of their liberties to form conduct which is imprinted by a neighbouring tyrant. Deprived of permanence of interest on the meathe steady support and systematic sures of an aristocratic, can never conduct of the aristocracy, the be attained by a popular government. vehemence of party strife became so With the excitation of the moment excessive, that the tranquillity of their efforts relax; the cheers of a despotism was, by common consent, mob are succeeded by their unavoiddeemed an eligible exchange. able panics. The maxim, "varium
The nobility of France were de- et mutabile semper," is the chastroyed in the first burst of the Revo- racteristic not more of feminine inlution; or rather, seduced by the ap- clination than of plebeian ambition. plauses and intimidated by the threats New events arise, other objects of of the people, they voluntarily abdi- desire present themselves; in the cated all their privileges, and trusted rapid changes of public men, which to maintain their ascendency by the endless vacillations of popular heading the movement. From that favour occasion, all permanent or sysday, not only their own power but tematic conduct is abandoned. The the liberty of the country were de- same generation who were intoxistroyed - despotism more
cated with the passion for freedom, than that of the Bourbons-energy in 1789, trembled in silence beneath more terrible than that of legiti- the Reign of Terror, crouched under mate imbecility, crushed the ambi- the severe yoke of the Directory, tion of the people. The tyrants and followed with enthusiastic of their own creation were a thou shouts the car of Napoleon. d times worse than those they Let any man observe the rapid, ex
deposed. The energy of Dan- traordinary, and almost inconceivto he cruelty of Robespierre, able changes of opinion which take the wespotism of the Directory, the place in the objects and desires of sceptre of Napoleon, by turns ruled the people, even in the most regular the state. Freedom, more real free. and systematic governments, and he dom than France had ever enjoyed will cease to be surprised at such since the days of Clovis, was revived, vacillation and weakness in their with the partial restoration of the conduct, when they are deprived of nobility, on the return of Louis : it their hereditary leaders. Observe has now perished with the expulsion the changes of opinion which have of Charles; and the bayonets of the occurred within our own recollecNational Guards, again, as in 1790, be- tion. Who was so popular as the come the unbalanced power in the Duke of Wellington after the Battle state. It requires little foresight or of Waterloo ? When amidst a nation's knowledge of the past to foresee, transports he received the thanks of that the present anomalous state of the House of Commons, or went in things cannot permanently continue procession to St Paul's, to share in in that country: and that if the aristo. the universal thanksgiving, who cracy are indeed irrevocably destroy would have been bold enough to ed, and the people left alone in pre- foretell that in fifteen years he should sence of military power,-the fumes be stoned like another Scipio through of democratic ambition will speedily the streets of the capital, which he evaporate, and Eastern despotism had saved from a greater than Hanclose the scene.
nibal ? Recollect the universal inEffects so uniform following the toxication on the fall of Paris : could destruction of aristocratic influence any man have believed in those days in all ages and countries, must have that in so short a time the glories of proceeded from some common and that period should in all the popular universal cause. Nor is it difficult journals be the subject of envious to see what this cause is. The peo- obloquy as triumphs of the boroughple without hereditary leaders are mongers, in which the people had no like an army without officers : they interest? Who has forgot the vehe
mence of popular interest in the late dom. Steady in nothing but the Queen ? The files of the Times de- unceasing jealousy of their govermonstrate that the whole energies of nors,—they pull down with merthat popular journal were for months ciless severity all those who have together devoted to demonstrate that for a few months been placed at the the driven snow was not purer than head of affairs. They are tired, like the virtue of that much injured the Athenian populace, of hearing princess. In what company is her them called the Just.
The conselife now to be found in the shops of quence is, that no steady system, and the metropolis ? We give no opinion no skill, either in politics or war, on the character of that celebrated can be attained by their leaders : and person; we mention only the muta- they become incapable of resisting bility of opinion regarding her. What foreign subjugation but by crouching volumes of panegyrics have for cen- under a despotic yoke of their own turies been lavished on the British creation. The fortunes of republican Constitution? What theme was, till France were rapidly on the decline, within these few months, so common
and the existence of the country with the learned, so grateful to the hung on a thread, when the Commitpatriotic, so acceptable to the people ? tee of Public Safety arose, and crushWhen did the national theatres re- ing all the chimeras of general equasound with such unanimous applause, lity, drew forth the resources of the as when the British Constitution was country, by an oppression unparalthe subject of panegyric, and the leled since the beginning of the fond wish expressed that it should world. be perpetual ? And now, what topic Now, the liberties of a people, is so hateful to the people, as the after the extinction of its hereditary very one which so recently was an legislators, are constantly exposed universal favourite; or what senti- to attacks from persevering and reckments so sure a passport to popular less ambition. The mob unarmed favour as the most vehement con- divided, and vacillating, find th demnation of those very institutions selves in presence of an org which had so long been the subject and ambitious military force. of their admiration? In proportion ring the tumults and suffering conas the British Constitution has be- sequent on civil convulsions, the army come more popular, public opinion becomes not only the only refuge of has become more variable; and the the daring, but the only organized reverence for antiquity, the sure force in the country. Hence the extramark of stable, exchanged for the ordinary facility with which a military passion for change, the invariable usurper has, in all ages, put the finishcharacteristic of declining institu- ing stroke to public distractions, by tions. St Paul well characterised establishing his own power on the not only the Athenian, but all other ruins of democratic institutions. The democracies, when he said that they people, having destroyed their natupassed their lives in hearing and see- ral leaders, and overturned all the ing something new.
settled relations of life, are no more It is this excessive - vacillation of capable of withstanding them, than all democratic societies, which ren- the rabble in the streets are of resistders them the certain prey, in a very ing a charge of steel-clad cuirassshort time, either of military despo- iers. tism, or monarchical power. The In defending, therefore, the insticontinual change of the leaders of tutions of the country from being the people, with the endless muta- overthrown, the British aristocracy tions of their affections, renders them are not maintaining any privileges of incapable of acquiring any skill or their own in opposition to the pubexperience in political life, or of lic welfare: they are preserving the permanently prosecuting any object freedom of England from destrucwhatever: the people, however vehe- tion; they are saving an infatuated ment in support of their liberties at nation from the otherwise inevitable one time, become enamoured of some
consequences of its own madness. other object at another, and in the Like the Jewish legislator, they are prosecution of this new phantom, called upon to stand between the they speedily relinquish to ambitious people and the plague: and the peo hands the guidance of their free, ple to their latest generation will bless those who now oppose their wishes, course, there are many exceptions : In defending the interests of their but this forms the present great clas, own order, they are preserving the sification of the empire. How or only bulwarks of real freedom; they where is the vehemence of the triare standing between the tide of de- bunes delegated to support demo. mocratic ambition, and the sword of cratic power to be resisted ? By the military despotism. If they are des- firmness of patrician purpose, and in tined to fall, with them will perish the Senate of the British Empire. the last defenders of order and free- “ Were the love of Reform," says dom; and instead of the stable and an author, generally supposed to be beneficent constitution of Britain, Lord Brougham, a plant of yester, her people will be convulsed in the day's growth, it might be safe to madness of popular ambition, or prune it carelessly, or even pluck it mourn in silence beneath the weight up ;--but that which was a few years of despotic power.
ago but as a grain of mustard-seed, Let not the British Aristocracy be and the least of plants, is now grown deterred by the assertion, that they are to a tree, in which the fowls of the not sufficiently powerful to withstand air build their nests.”* Of such short the House of Commons. The pre- growth, even in the opinion of its sent House is differently
constituted ablest supporters, is the present pasfrom any prior one in English His- sion for Reform.
“ A few years ago tory. By the confession of the Re- it was a grain of mustard-seed, the formers, according to the boast of least of plants.” Is it for an obthe radical journals, the influence of ject of such ephemeral, such tranthe Peers has been almost extinguish- sient duration, that we are now to ed in the late elections. What is the be required to sacrifice the British legitimate inference to be drawn constitution ? To overturn a sysfrom this circumstance? It is that tem which has accommodated itself the conservative party now are to be to the wants of twenty generations; found chiefly in the Upper House; which has grown with our growth, and that the two branches of the Le and strengthened with our strength; gislature stand, in consequence of the which is not a passion of a few years' popular triumph at the late elections, growth, but the result of experience in a totally different situation from since the days of Alfred ? Lord what they ever did before. The Brougham says that the passion for House of Commons, for the first time reform has sprung up since 1782, in British annals, no longer fully re- from a meeting in the Palace Yard presents all classes in the state; a at York :-Such is the oldest date asmajority has, from popular excite- signed to the wish for the new conment, been returned of the tribunes stitution; while the attachment to of the people : and unless the Aris- the old is lost in the obscurity of fortocracy are to be destroyed, and the gotten time. Democratic Ascendency rendered “ Can you seriously believe,” says paramount, the Conservative Party the same author, “ that such men as must seek their full representation in the Dukes of Norfolk, Somerset, Dethe House of Lords.
vonshire, Grafton, Bedford, Lord In the counties where the Reform- Grosvenor, Lord Cleveland, Lord ers have triumphed (and that em- Yarborough, Lord Stafford, Lord braces almost all England), the great Winchilsea and Manvers, and so many bulk of the landed proprietors, and others with great estates and highalmost all the clergy, are opposed to sounding titles, are anxious to inthe Bill. They have been outvoted by crease the democratic influence in the multitudes of Reformers, whom the constitution beyond due bounds ? democratic ambition, awakened by The supposition that any of these the sudden and prodigal gift of po- men we have mentioned, who are litical power, brought up to the poll
. placed in situations which render The property, intelligence, and edu- them entirely independent of the faeation of the country, is arrayed on vours of the crown, would support one side; on the other, numbers, a measure, the tendency of which energy, and popular ambition. Of was to endanger their possessions,
* Friendly Advice to the Peers, p. 17.